These words don’t make sense

In this post I’m going to talk about three phrases that are a little bit silly. They are ‘to lose weight’, ‘to be fat’, and ‘to be skinny’. Let’s start with losing weight.

Now, it’s true, I do see a fair few people around me that could benefit from shedding a few kilos, and most people seem to be happy when they see the number on the scales go down. But it’s not like “Oh my God, I’ve put my weight down somewhere and I can’t find it!” Technically, you don’t ‘lose’ anything, you burn off some of your body fat as a result of eating less junk food, moving more, eating healthier food, stopping comfort eating, lifting weights, balancing out your hormones, or any other of a host of reasons. Usually, you make a diet or lifestyle change for the better, you shed some excess body fat, and you feel better for it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve lost weight. Muscle is a lot denser than fat, so one kilogram of muscle takes up a lot less space than one kilogram of fat.

Say you cut some sugary junk food out of your diet which will stop you gaining more fat, and then you do some resistance training which will stimulate your body to grow muscle, as well as mobilising some of your fat stores and using them as energy, but the number on the scale goes up. You look different: you have less wobbly bits and more firm bits, you feel different – you’re noticeably stronger and everyday chores are so much easier, you feel better because you have more energy and you love the way your body looks and feels. Your silhouette is more shapely and you’re actually occupying less space, yet you haven’t lost any weight – you’ve actually gained some because you have more muscle now than you did before. Wonderful muscle that looks lovely and makes you feel strong and capable and needs to be fuelled with food even when it’s not working which means that you can eat more good food without worrying about it turning into fat. But you haven’t lost weight. Can you see how ridiculous this is? If you’re still not convinced, read this article and take a good look at the pictures.

Now, let’s move on to ‘being fat’. Technically, this doesn’t even make sense. It’s not like being an astronaut, or being an introvert, or being awake or being asleep. Nobody can be fat. We’re all human beings with a greater or lesser amount of fat on our bodies, but we’re people first – our percentages of adipose tissue should be way down the list of what makes each of us unique. And we all have some fat on us; whether it’s subcutaneous fat that lies between our muscle and our skin or visceral fat that sits around our organs, we all have it, and we can’t control where our bodies put it.

What we can control, however, is how much or how little of it we have. Now, I think it’s important to mention here that you can have a generous amount of fat on your body and still be healthy; if you eat well, move your body, feel good and are able to do all the things you want to do then what does it matter? Who am I to say that there’s anything wrong with that? There’s not. But if you’ve got a generous amount of fat on your body because you live on junk food and spend most of your day sitting, and you don’t feel good and can’t do half the things you’d like to be able to do… Well that’s a problem. And if you fit into that category it’s up to you to change. Your health is your own responsibility and it’s never too late make a change for the better. And if you’re raising children it’s absolutely your responsibility to teach them about good food.

Okay, on to ‘being skinny’. If someone says you’re healthy you probably have a good level of health, if someone says you’re wealthy you probably have a lot of money or other valuable assets, if someone says you’re skinny you probably have a lot of… skin? Is it because you’re just skin and bones? Even the Oxford Dictionary defines skinny as being “unattractively thin”, yet for so many women being skinny is their number one goal in life.

When I talk about goals with my clients I ask them what they’d like to be able to see or feel or do that tells them that their goal has been achieved, and more often than not feeling better or doing more is a more meaningful affirmation than simply seeing a change.

So yes, you can have a slim body but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be healthy, or happy. You could even have a slim body with a generous amount of fat on top and a stingy amount of muscle underneath. Or you could stop worrying about whether you’re too fat or too skinny and just be yourself.

For me, I want to feel good and healthy and strong and have all the energy I need each day to be able to do the things I want to do. And so I eat accordingly, so that I have the energy to do these things. And I move my body in a way that makes me feel alive and strong without exhausting me. And it’s a work in progress. And it probably always will be.

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How I Eat

I don’t eat wheat or sugar. Just pause for a moment and think about all the things this cuts out. No bread, no pasta, no cakes, biscuits, crackers, baked goods, sweet treats and other processed, refined crap. I’m not one of those people who replaces what they can’t have with a far inferior substitute, like a vegetarian who can’t eat a sausage made of meat so they eat one made of soy. If you don’t want to eat meat, why would you eat something that looks like meat but isn’t? Sorry, but I just don’t get it.

So I don’t eat gluten free bread, or pasta, or anything else. It’s partly because I want what I eat to be as nutritionally dense as possible (wheat doesn’t make the cut in my opinion) and partly because I have an intolerance to it. I don’t mean the kind of intolerance where I thought it sounded kinda trendy so I decided to have one, I mean the kind of intolerance where it feels like there’s a lump of toxic cement stuck in my guts that’s painful enough to make my knees wobble and my mouth fill with saliva like I’m about to spew. So I really am better off without it, and have been for about 15 years. I also think it’s part of the reason why I’ve never been overweight – grains are fed to animals to fatten them up, why would it be any different with people?

Cutting sugar out of my diet has happened more recently. I’m talking about added sugar here; I do eat fruit, which contains fructose, and I drink milk, which contains lactose, and I eat foods that contain carbohydrates (which essentially are long chains of sugar molecules). Over the last year I’ve made a huge transition from ‘I’m not even really sure why sugar’s bad for me anyway’ to ‘now that I know what sugar does, I don’t want to go anywhere near it’. If you’re interested in giving up sugar, or just want to learn more it, check out Sarah Wilson – she’s awesome. Also check out this video from Dr Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, to learn how the body deals with sugar, and how a calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie.

So, no wheat and no sugar. What do I eat then? I eat fruit, though not too much, as our bodies can only handle the amount of fructose that’s contained in about two serves of fruit each day. I eat vegetables. A lot of them: fresh, seasonal, raw and cooked. I eat meat. I’m very lucky in that I have access to organic farm-raised beef and lamb. I love fatty meat; lamb and duck would be my all-time favourites. I eat fish – sometimes freshly caught, sometimes from the supermarket. I eat eggs – free range only. I was vegetarian for about four years during my late teens and early twenties, but forced myself to start eating meat again when I discovered that I was almost anaemic. I would never go back to being vegetarian and I wouldn’t advise anyone to go there, especially if you’re female. When I was vegetarian I ate a lot of sugar. Now, I only crave sugar if I’ve gone for too long without eating red meat, once I eat some meat the craving disappears.

I eat dairy in all shapes and sizes: milk, cheese, butter, cream, cottage cheese, yoghurt… I actually buy cream by the litre now, I don’t bother buying milk anymore. Did I mention I’m not fat? I weighed myself this morning and I was about 56 kilograms. My weight fluctuates by a few kilos either side but that’s it. Sometimes I go to the fridge and cut slivers of butter off the block and eat them – on their own. My scales tell me that I’m about 10 % fat. If you’re not familiar with body fat percentages, 10 % is pretty low, especially for a woman. I’m trying to make a point here: eating fat doesn’t make you fat. I’ll write more about this later.

I also eat nuts and seeds every day. Some of my favourites are almonds, macadamias, brazils, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and linseed. More fat. I love it! Anything from a coconut is right up my alley too: coconut water, coconut cream, coconut oil, the flesh, fresh or dried, it’s so good. I eat very few grains. Occasionally I’ll have some rice (black or brown over white) or quinoa, but it’s the exception rather than the norm.

I prepare all my own meals from scratch. I prefer it that way as it means I know exactly what’s in my food and what isn’t. I enjoy eating out occasionally, but, to be honest, the quality of what I prepare myself is better than any restaurant I know of. I love strong flavours and spices. After my first trip to Thailand at the tender age of 18 all food tasted dull and boring if it wasn’t at least a little bit spicy. I can out-spice most people I know and I grow my own chillies in order to have a ready supply. I sprinkle cayenne pepper on my fruit and nuts and yoghurt at breakfast; I know of only one other person who does this, he’s a chili fiend just like me. I use fresh ginger root in everything, yes even breakfast.

I reckon the more time and energy one puts into preparing food, the more satisfying and satiating it is. The preparation is an important part of the whole eating experience. Taking the time to savour the food is also important as it takes a while for the stomach to tell the brain that it’s full – by the time that the message has got through you may well have overeaten.

If you’re trying to lose weight, changing the way you eat is a far more powerful tool than just adding exercise. Get the eating and the exercise working well together and you’ll be on fire.