Archive for the ‘A Trainers Thoughts’ Category

IMG_5252Before @ 105kg and After @ 94kg

Westy, what can I say about the guy? He’s a terminator. He has been working his butt off for a long time, to not only change his body composition, but also maintain those results for an extended period of time. While it’s true these aren’t 12 week results, they have taken time, he has changed his lifestyle, changed unhealthy habits to more positive ones, and has kept the weight off. That is significant. He is no bodybuilder, he doesn’t live, sweat and breathe the fitness industry. He has a wife and kids, and a life outside the gym. That is; he has a myriad of concerns other than health and well-being, but he comes to his sessions, ready to do whatever is asked, he texts me his food, his macros everyday, and is involved in his dietary and health goals. That is all anyone can ask.

Westy works a stressful job, sits at a desk all day, and to be honest, even until recently, his dietary habits have been based off habit, comfort and stress. But we have been working together, over time, to make improvements, to find what is based on science and works for him. We have tried low carb/high protein diets, intermittent fasting, which have worked to varying degrees (IF in particular Westy found to be useful), what we have found that has helped him retain the most muscle mass while losing bodyfat has been in a high protein/moderate carb/low-fat/sugar diet. I have been trying to push his protein up to about 2+g/kg/bw/day with his fat at about 25% of total cals with the remaining cals to be made up of nutritious and fibrous carbs. Coupled with this is a total deficit of 3,500 cals/week (how he chooses to get that within the parameters above is up to him). We set it up at about -500cals/day with a high and low day in there, but hey, sometimes life gets in the way. We have been measuring his weight and hes getting to below 90kg now which is starting to get us to a good bodyweight, so we may play around with bringing up his calories to -100-200 below maintenance/day so as to maintain as much muscle as we can and slowly drip the bodyfat off.

Now for some numbers, the first assessment I have for Westy is on 19/9/14:

  • Has his weight at 101.5 kg
  • Bodyfat Percentage at 31%

And of his latest assessment on 1/7/15:

  • Had his weight at 89kg
  • Bodyfat Percentage at 23%

More than this, his changes haven’t simply been physique related, as you can see below he has also make incredible improvements to his strength:

I’m incredibly proud of this guy, who is a client, but has also become a dear friend and a trusted confidant. I’m thankful that he has stuck with me on his journey and I hope that I continue to help him for a long time to come with his goals.

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Lets should start with context, I feel personally that the best looking and ultimately healthier physique will come from a combination of both diet AND exercise. I’m currently reading Gaesser’s 2002 book: Big Fat Lies and one of his thesis’ is that it is actually being sedentary rather the bodyfat that truly accounts for metabolic syndrome. Right or wrong, I think this is in a sense an obviously compelling thesis, even if we don’t go so far as he does. I believe exercise to be a beneficial component to any weight management strategy, while potentially not being necessary. And with that context any weight management program I devise will have, at its core, exercise, not because it is necessarily the most important thing, but more because I think it is often overlooked. And when I talk of exercise I mean, where possible, intense exercise – with weights and cardio (weights 2-3 times per week/ interval training 2 times/week).

With that context set what about diet? Well, I think the starting place has to be with some kind of caloric measurement and observation, at what level is really up to you, but if you think you can get by without observing what you’re putting into your body at all, well I liken that to not managing your finances, or dental hygeine etc. These things needs to be monitored, to what degree you decide. I advise clients to download MyFitnessPal for their smart phones, it’s free and its relatively easy to use. It can be as involved as you want it to be, and tracks everything from weight, to bodyfat, to food, to calories, to changes in body shape, to exercise. I don’t see why you would need anything more than this app for diet. Having said that, how do you use it? Firstly, start at the home screen and select “more” (highlighted in red) and you’ll end up at this screen:

FullSizeRender (3)then select “goals” (highlighted in black). From here you’ll end up at this screen:


Here you’ll add your current bodyweight, your goal bodyweight, how much weight you want to lose per week and your activity level (in the area highlighted black). I would recommend setting your weekly goal to be a loss of 0.5kg/week. This will keep your calories at a manageable level (- 500/day off maintenance), and will get you to the 3,500 calorie a week deficit which will be more than enough for fat loss. Now, some argue the accuracy of 3,500cal deficit/week as it used to be used because it is supposed this is how much energy one pound of fat yields. While this may not be accurate (due to hormonal and individual differences) it gives us a good basis for a reduction and management of calories without dropping too low. Regarding your activity level you’ll have the choice of sedentary, lightly active, active, very active. This is the best explanation I’ve found for it:

The Activity Level factors MFP uses are based on statistics for average people, not athletes or someone bedridden. The higher your BMR, the more cals Activity Level adds. Also, the higher your LBM (lean body mass – how much muscle you have), the higher Activity Level factor you need, to account for more calories burned even when at rest. This is where many lean, reasonably muscular people err, as they don’t compensate for higher muscle mass. If you choose the wrong Activity Level setting, you may be eating too much or too little.

Sedentary: Adds about 250-500 cals/day for most people. Appropriate for: Those who work at a desk job AND are sedentary at home, with light or no exercise and low LBM; Usually NOT appropriate for stay-at-home moms/dads with young children.

Lightly Active: Adds 450-700. Appropriate for: Most people with young children, who are otherwise sedentary; Many who have a desk job but exercise moderately and have a moderate LBM%; Those who stand a lot at work, but don’t really walk around a lot or lift heavy items, etc.

Active: Adds 700-1000. Appropriate for those who have an active job (some nurses, waitresses, laborers, etc) and exercise moderately-frequently, and especially those who have a high LBM%.

Very Active: Adds 950-1400. Appropriate for those who have a very active job (trainers, some laborers, some athletes, some warehouse workers), and exercise frequently and have a high or very high LBM%. (Ladyhawk, 2011)

Once you have added this select “calorie and macronutrient goals” (highlighted in red) which will bring you to this screen:IMG_5124select any macronutrient (carb, fat or protein) and you’ll end up at this screen:

IMG_5126Make sure you change your carbs to 40% of total cals, protein to 35% and fat to 25% equally a total of 100% calories accounted for. The protein is higher than your standard amount to aid in satiety and also to aid in the promotion and maintenance of muscle mass and where possible assist in reducing the loss of such. The carbs are still high enough to energize you for hard workouts and alertness with fat being low enough but also within healthy ranges. Obviously the stricter you are in achieving your caloric and macro targets the better your results. But, for the best results, do not go over your sugar and fat targets, protein and carbs you can go over where applicable (allow this policy to influence your junk food, or cheating habits). If your bodyfat percentage is on the higher end (over 25% for a male and 30% for a girl), you’ll want to reduce your carb intake slightly and increase your fat so your ratios will look like this: 30% of total cals, protein to 35% and fat to 35%

This may seem stringent, but it need not be, and its a good way to see just how bad your eating habits are. Use this method to correct them, or at the very least be aware of them and let this become a new dietary habit for you.

Setting calories and macros are the first 2 most important steps in the dietary strategy for fat loss. Without doing these, success with be limited, perhaps impossible.

I could probably add in how to use the food search engine in the app too, how to create meals, save them and recall them, but lets do that next time.


Activity Level and Logging Exercise: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/blog/ladyhawk00/view/activity-level-and-logging-exercise-125513

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IMG_5149  IMG_5148

Surprisingly, there is only 2.5kg difference between these two pics.

For Sieraya’s first results blog, see here.

This girl, what a trooper. She has had an intense year, working 50hrs a week managing her own gym with lunch hours worked at her desk, long commutes to work and back, and the stress that comes with all of this and the job itself. She has had ups and downs over the past year and a half (since her last results blog) and not all of her work has been in the right direction. But, that hasn’t stopped her. And it’s showing through in her work, which is steadily moving in the right direction.

Now for some quick stats:

Her first pics on the left have her bodyweight at 78.3kg and her bodyfat percentage at 35%

While the pics on the right have her bodyweight at 75.8kg and her bodyfat percentage at 26%

That’s a loss of 9% bodyfat while only losing 2.5kg. What has been most interesting about her results is that since her last results blog she has put on 5kg of muscle and has lost a further 1.5% bodyfat.

The change has come from utilizing metabolic resistance type training programs and dietary strategies such as low carb, intermittent fasting and such to more bodybuilding/volume based programs that focus on heavier weights and less cardio based training, coupled with high protein diets with moderate carb intake and low-fat. Now, a sidenote, the aforementioned strategies are useful, particularly if you are looking to lose a lot of bodyfat quickly and aren’t overly concerned with keeping as much muscle mass as possible. For example, the pic below has Sieraya at a lower bodyfat percentage than she is now, and looking “smaller” but that is not necessarily what Sieraya wants, she wants muscle mass, she wants to be lean and muscular, a hard combination to be sure, that takes much more nuance.

FullSizeRenderOn the left she is 69kg with a bodyfat percentage of 23%

On the right she is 74kg with a bodyfat percentage of 26%

As you can see from the two pics together, that while she was leaner and lighter in the pic on the left, she doesn’t have the same kind of curvature and musculature as she does on the right. And these are things we have worked on together as we get results from different programs and methodologies, as we find what works for her to get her the results she is looking for.

The same goes for her strength and indeed her training ethic, in the videos below we get a glimpse of the hard work she’s put in with her strength training, as well as her hypertrophy/volume work. And let me just say, some of her high volume hypertrophy programs have been just as grueling as some of those metabolic resistance workouts (as you can see with her German Body Composition video).

I couldn’t be prouder of Sieraya and I look forward to the coming months of training as we start a new block.

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Let us now turn to possible dietary solutions. After all, it is all well and good to critique diets, and their practices, but what are the answers for the person who wants to take control of their body via their health, weight and fitness? To Abel it begins with “self-nurturing, self-respect, self-acceptance” (p. 44), that to be able to affect any kind of mastery over any goal including body transformation goals you must start from a place of positivity and acceptance, of yourself and your body. That to view yourself negatively from the outside, while you deprive your body will ultimately end in failure. More than this, these attributes have to be gleaned intellectually, they cannot be dieted to, in the dieting process,  but rather reasoned from before the dieting process even begins. Abel urges that you self correct your diet-mentality by replacing the cycle of negativity in your own head:

You correct the mistakes you are making in your attempts at weight-loss and weight-control – by nurturing and accepting yourself beyond the mitakes you are making – NOT by rejecting yourself for making them. (Abel, 2015, p.45)

This new way of thinking Abel states will create a positive feed back loop that will enrich you, and when you positively perform toward your goals you will strengthen “your connection with your body” (p. 46). The catch being of course that the reverse is also true, labeling yourself “good” or “bad” every time you make a judgement about food will foster a disconnected state with your body.

FullSizeRender (2)

(Abel, 2015, p.68)

As you can see, Abel stresses a pre-dietary understanding and introspection of yourself and who you are, cold hard nutritional facts and practices cannot guide you to who you are and what you value about yourself with self-compassion at the very center of all of this.

Think about your thoughts in relation to ‘how’ you eat, and ‘why’ you eat. And for the time being, leave the judgemental element of ‘what’ you eat out of the equation entirely. Just examine your operating system of the diet-mentality, and, as in the diagram, look at all the ‘branches of your existence’ that it extends to.

If you start to think ‘rationally’ from there, you can see all the irrational inconsistencies and emotional contagions of the diet-mentality that affect both you on a conscious and sub-conscious level. (Abel, 2015, p.69-70)

Abel thinks the “real and true and actual” key to weight management lies in being “process-focused” not “outcome focused” (p.70), more than this we need to focus on a consistent level of process focused behavior and thinking. Abel offers two strategies to be consistent with diet, in that it must:

  1. serve the body
  2. be sustainable

It’s in the self-compassionate mindset that Abel believes the path to being able to make consistency a priority lies, that allows for this to be a process and not an ideal (be it bodyweight/ bodyfat etc) to strive toward. He believes outcome focused thinking to be a part of the diet-mentality, a system that keeps you emotional and irrational and locked into thinking about end-points. Not that emotion itself can be or should be completely avoided either, but on the self compassionate mindset:

… emotional connections with yourself are ‘related’ to the food and eating experience, but not dictated by it. You are not emotionally connected “by” food or “to” food, any more than you could be emotionally connected to your mobile phone. (Abel, 2015, p.71)

That might be enough for today’s purposes. Please feel free to share any thoughts and criticisms you might have of this series thus far.


Abel, S. (2015). The Anti-Diet Approach to Weight Loss and Weight Control. Scott Abel.

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To Abel there are even more ways a restrictive, “12 week” diet can hurt you, for example in the way it affects your sleeping patterns:

The quality of your sleep can affect the weight-control systems of checks and balances inside your body… This can become a vicious cycle. (Abel, 2015, p.124)

He goes on to state that many dieters experience problematic sleep, and deprivation is one of the main causes of disrupted appetite and appetite control, both physiologically but also psychologically in that you experience decreased will power (think of it being used as an interrogation technique for example). This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby sleep deprivation weakens your will, thus making you eat junk food which makes you put on weight, which makes you diet harder, affecting your sleep further and affecting your appetite to a greater extent. More than this, diets that tell you when to eat (as in eat after such and such a time of day) can make you go to bed hungry, this can affect sleep:

The presence of food affects brain chemistry and neurotransmitters that are calming and relaxing for you. Without them, and with an empty stomach you cannot force yourself to relax and go to sleep.

But with the presence of enough food and enough blood-sugar to cross the blood-brain barrier, you increase serotonin levels enough to relax naturally and fall asleep. (Abel, 2015, p.125)

But what about psychology? Abel notes that the diet-mentality is about self-rejection, and thinking you can overcome or conquer yourself and your ego, that for meaning and purpose to be positive in your life it needs to be “self-connecting and expressive” (p. 144). So that “being on the ball” with diet, that is to be consistent and good in your eating actually comes from your state of mind, and your self actualization, and no diet can provide the necessary substance for you or your life to ever be justifying enough for you to maintain a constant on the ball approach. More than this Abel notes that when you break your diet, you are actually reflecting back to yourself your own misgivings about your life and yourself, that is the reason you break your diet. The diet-mentality tells you a diet can fix these problems, it fools you into believing such, Abel asks when you enter a diet regime that you ask yourself two questions:

  1. What are the intended consequences ‘for’ my diet undertaking?

  2. What are the unintended consequences ‘of’ my diet undertaking? (mentally and emotionally). (Abel, 2015, p.145)

He asks that when considering the mental and emotion considerations of a diet that you consider your past influences, your upbringing, for any “current triggers”, for example he notes that some people with extreme eating behaviors/disorders and/or body image issues had overly critical parents or an emotionally absent parent (sometimes being an alcoholic or drug dependent). Extrapolating from this he states that current triggers under this scenario might be factors like ” a need to be noticed or a fear of being judged or “exposed” as being unworthy.” (p. 145) Abel notes that an intended consequence of dieting is a sense of control by focusing angst in areas other than on yourself and your life.

The planning and rules for dieting offer something else to focus on. You can “feel good” when dieting because you are proving yourself “worthy” and at the same time avoiding inner emotional conflicts. But then you become ‘externally focused,’ at which point the same old fears (past influences) that set all of this in motion just play out as “unintended consequences”.

You emotionally fear weight-gain, which now represents not being good-enough. It represents being judged; it represents feeling inferior. (Abel, 2015, p.145)

Abel notes these are all unintended consequences of the diet-mentality, and the fears don’t stop there, he goes on to say that you fear (your diet-induced) hunger, thinking you should be able to resist it, from here you label yourself as weak and unworthy, thus replacing your past triggers, turning that hyper critical analysis you received from your loved ones inward, most important and scarily:

YOU become both your own hyper-critical parent and the emotionally absent one as well.

And still you turn to dieting as a way out Abel notes, as a way to “measure and judge yourself within it”. The point being of course that this all becomes an exercise in avoidance, you never reconcile your current emotional and mental states and only intensify and deepen them while adding and losing (but overall gaining) weight as time goes on. To finish this blog series on the diet-mentality, before we look at how to get out of this hole Abel finishes up:

The lie of the diet-mentality is that you believe that ‘proving your body’ in weight-loss will somehow translate into soothing your soul, only it never does. The cycle repeats itself. (Abel, 2015, p.146)

Our next series will go through Abel’s ‘self-compassionate mind’ that is, how to repair the damage done by repeated dieting.


Abel, S. (2015). The Anti-Diet Approach to Weight Loss and Weight Control. Scott Abel.

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12 Ways to Know if You Should Include an Exercise in a Strength Training Program – Eric Cressey.

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Fat Loss Friday: 15 Lessons on Leaning Out – Eric Cressey.

Build Your Glutes Fast! -Chad Waterbury.

Eat, Lift, and Condition to Lose Fat and Maintain Muscle -Mark Lewis and Travis Pollen.

Does Light Load Training Build Muscle in Experienced Lifters? – Brad Schoenfeld.

Squats and Deadlifts Won’t Make Your Waist Blocky– Bret Contreras.

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Top 12 Biggest Myths About Weight Loss -Kris Gunnars.

Whole Body Vibration Therapy -Steven Novella.

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Abel states the diet mentality snares you into confusing “effect with cause”,  that dieting to feel better about yourself is exactly backwards, as the stress and anxiety caused by the diet-mentality will never allow you to be free of worrying and stressing over these issues. When you diet to address the supposed cause of your unhappiness (your weight, your appearance), you only ever deal with effects, not causes. The causes are self perception, emotional, how you feel about yourself.  It is in coming to these issues already empowered, free of these emotional attachments that a leaner you will manifest, according to Abel, or at least finding these truths once already within the diet-mentality, that feeling inspired in yourself, to look better and feel better, being connected emotionally with your body will result in long-term sustainable results. Just how to do this and how to free yourself of the diet-mentality will be discussed later. (p. 64-66)

This emotional component, of being incomplete, unsure of yourself and potentially unhappy is at the root of the diet-mentality for Abel, and is something he addresses often he talks about how it twists your self perception and emotional unity (which he couches in terms such as “spiritual self”):

Under the influence of the diet-mentality you are starving your spiritual self, as a result of rejecting your external self, while under the pursuit of some diet illusion you think will bring it all together.

It won’t! (Abel, 2015, p.87)

Shame based self-criticism, self-rejection and self-attacking stem from the diet-mentality Abel notes, and are not ways to correct undesired behavior.

From here Abel turns his attention to dieting itself, and immediately he looks to the weight loss industry, critiquing such companies as Weight Watchers stating that even the focus of the company’s name emphasizes the diet-mentality, in the term “Watchers” as if weight is something that needs to be watched, focused on, as he puts it “consciously or subconsciously”. (p. 118) He asks if watching your weight is the goal of a lifetime? No, he would say, but more than this he would say it can’t be . The reason, beyond the aforementioned, this is so is because the best diet is the one you can stick to, repeating Weight Watchers every time you put weight back on, or going low carb as it were every time you need to get in shape misses the point. Sustainability is at the heart of effective and healthy weight control, but as Abel notes Weight Watchers type diet plans fit in precisely with his diet-mentality critique:

[it reinforces] the short-term type of thinking of the diet-mentality. It confuses short-term weight-loss attempts with long-term weight control. (Abel, 2015, p.119)

What of other standard dieting practices such as weighing yourself on a scale? While maintaining a healthy weight and body fat percentage are realistic goals to have notes Abel, he wants to separate the distinction between sustainable and absolute values:

Everyone is likely to have different body-weight set point, a different level of flexibility and metabolic resilience, in terms of how much weight you can lose and maintain.

Everyone is going to have a difference scale-weight that represents “health, vitality and sustainability” FOR THEM. Therefore, aiming for “numbers” on a scale or a percent bodyfat not only confuses the issues, but can cause many of them as well.

The best way to become overweight, proven in study after study (…) is to become a serial dieter.

This fundamental truth is not in dispute among real experts. (Abel, 2015, p.119-120)

Abel does not blame you the dieter however, he lays the fault of this issue solely at the weight-loss industries door, he states it is them (us?) that should be sued for causing weight gain, for promoting dieting system after dieting system, for reinforcing self-destructive behaviors and creating, or at least promoting the diet-mentality en masse.

Going further, and bringing it back to the dieter herself, Abel asks yet again what kind of effect this kind of yo-yo dieting has on the way you process these kind of results within the context of the short-term emphasis of the diet-mentality? He asks to consider the example of someone who has lost some weight on a low-carb diet:

So your diet-mentality dictates to you that you “know” eliminating carbs “works” because you lost weight during so way back when. But you are perpetually blind to the reality that weight lost this way is what caused you to gain back all your weight and even more. You can’t see it, so your diet-mentality tells you to go back to the exact thing that precipitated the weight-gain to begin with. How does this make any sense? Yet this is exactly how the diet-mentality plays out for millions of people every single day, every single year. (Abel, 2015, p.122)

But, how does this work exactly? What is the mechanism by which we lose and re-gain said weight? Abel dubs it the: “post-diet-compensation-resistance-syndrome” and it occurs usually after extreme dieting, in which you find yourself snacking and nibbling, sometimes binging, all the while with the mindset to never go back to all or nothing extremes. You find yourself in a situation where you’ve built up so much of a resistance, due to deprivation, to eating and dieting that you can’t adhere to healthy and normal eating habits. But, Abel notes this is a common self-protecting mechanism (or “emotional reaction compensation”, p. 123) and it can last for years, which can be strengthened by even entertaining another diet strategy. In an attempt to avoid the diet-mentality through avoidance of dieting you actually sabotage even “health ‘diet’ efforts (eating right without dieting).” p. 123 This cycle Abel notes will continue until you brace the self-compassionate mind.

This might be enough for now, we’ll take a closer look at other negative causes associated with the diet-mentality in Part: 1C.


Abel, S. (2015). The Anti-Diet Approach to Weight Loss and Weight Control. Scott Abel.

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