Monthly Archives: June 2008

Best exercises if you’re overweight and unfit

Many apologies, this post was supposed to go up last Wednesday – but didn’t, due to a slight technical hitch (er, I forgot to upload it). So here it is, the belated and now slightly out-of-sequence tenth part of the dieting basics series. I hope it was worth waiting for…

If you’re carrying a lot of extra weight, or if you rarely get any exercise, it’s important to build up gradually. Trying to start off at too high a level will leave you disappointed and frustrated – and can even cause injury.

The three best forms of exercise if you’re very out of shape are:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Housework or gardening


One of my favourite activities is a simple walk. This is one of the easiest ways to get started with exercising: you probably do some walking currently (even if it’s just round the office, or to the corner shop and back).

Try going for a short stroll daily, to begin with: that might just be to the end of the street and back, or around your block. Add a few minutes to your walk each day, until you can walk for half an hour continuously.

Once you’ve managed this (and take your time building up to this level if you were very out of shape to begin with … better to go slowly than give up altogether), start varying your route to make it a little more challenging. Try adding some uphill and downhill slopes for a more energetic workout, and vary the surfaces which you walk on – don’t just pound the pavements, but look for grassy or sandy areas where you can roam. Local parks or beaches are ideal for this.

Even on busy days, fit in a short walk. It might be a quick trip round the shops at lunchtime, or a leisurely evening stroll – but make sure you move those legs! Hopefully, you’ll quickly come to enjoy walking as a leisure activity; if you find it boring, try listening to music or walking and chatting with a friend.

Calories burned (if you weigh 11 stone – this will be higher if you’re heavier)

Exercise Calories
30 minutes gentle walking 88
30 minutes brisk walking 140


Like walking, swimming is a low-impact activity and is highly recommended if you have joint problems as the water supports your body weight and prevents stress being put on your knees, hips or elbows.

Many people are put off swimming from fear of “what other people will think”; if you’re overweight or out of shape, it’s difficult to feel entirely comfortable with your body in a swimsuit. Remember that lots of “normal” sized people are just as self-conscious about their bodies – no-one is likely to be staring at you, as they’ll be concentrating on swimming. It might help to go to a ladies’ or men’s night, or an adult lengths-only session which won’t be full of shrieking kids and teenagers.

As with walking, build up gradually; if the last time you were in a swimming pool was as a kid, don’t try to do thirty lengths straight away. Swim at a gentle pace and rest every few lengths to get your breath back.

There are plenty of swimming classes for adults as well as kids, so if you never learnt to swim – or if you know your technique needs work – why not sign up for one? You might also enjoy an aqua-aerobics class, which is a great way to exercise if you’re out of shape.

Calories burned:

Exercise Calories
30 minutes leisurely swimming 211
30 minutes moderate swimming 282

Housework or gardening

Seeing “housework” and “gardening” listed as types of exercises may surprise you – but these activities can clock up as many calories burned as an exercise class. And you’ll have a clean house or a tidy garden as an extra bonus, too!

As with walking and swimming, the key is to start off gently and take things at your own pace – don’t try to spring-clean the whole house in one day. Pick one room, or one section of the garden, to concentrate on. Start with low-intensity activities such as tidying, washing up and weeding – then move on to hoovering, scrubbing floors, cleaning windows and digging flowerbeds.

Be careful if you have to lift anything heavy, or stretch at an awkward angle – it’s not only top athletes and footballers who can injure themselves exercising…

Calories burned:

Exercise Calories
30 minutes scrubbing floors 194
30 minutes mowing lawn 194
30 minutes general cleaning 123

The next instalment in the series is Keeping a food and exercise diary – make sure you’ve bookmarked The Office Diet, or subscribed to the RSS feed, so that you don’t miss it.

(Image above by sirwiseowl)

  • Updated August 8, 2012
  • Basics

Six persistent exercise myths debunked

This is the eleventh part of the dieting basics series – see the series outline for links to all the other posts so far.

It’s easy to get confused by all the conflicting exercise advice out there. If you haven’t exercised since your school days, don’t rely on half-remembered “wisdom” from back then. Some popular myths about exercising still persist, and you need to be sure that you’re basing your workout on sensible ideas rather than confused bad science.

1. The “No pain, no gain” myth

A couple of decades ago, “No pain, no gain” was a popular mantra. But exercise should not be painful – if a stretch or position hurts, don’t attempt it. If your muscles are so sore the day after a workout that you can hardly move, you overdid things.

There may be some temporary discomfort when exercising – perhaps the occasional ache, or feeling tired out – but pain is a signal to your body to stop.

2. The “spot-reduce fat” myth

Have you ever come across an exercise plan which promises to blitz fat from a particular trouble spot (maybe the stomach, upper arms, or thighs?) Sadly, it’s not possible to spot-reduce fat: when you lose weight, the fat comes off from all over your body. You can tone up specific parts of your body by targeting the muscle groups there, but if you’re carrying an extra layer of fat, this will hide your toned muscles.

Sadly, the only way to get rid of fat is to create a calorie deficit and lose weight gradually over time (see the earlier article in this series on Recommended calorie intake for more information) – there’s no quick fix.

3. The “exercise is boring” myth

Many of us think exercise has to be boring, tedious, time-consuming and repetitive in order to pay off. Perhaps this is because we often believe that something “good for us” can’t be fun. But there are lots of activities that will both give you a great workout and a great time. Try some of these:

  • Your favourite activities as a kid (maybe swimming, ice-skating, roller-blading …)
  • Getting active with a friend or partner (simply walking together, or playing a game of tennis or badminton)
  • Joining a sports team – perhaps start one at work, open to all ability levels (football, or basketball are popular options)
  • Starting a new hobby: you’d be surprised how many “fun” sports there are (trampolining, salsa dancing, medieval sword fighting…)

4. The “fat-burning zone” myth

This one’s a little like the idea that you can spot-reduce fat. Some people believe that you have to be exercising at a certain percentage of your maximum heart rate in order to burn fat – and this myth is perpetuated by those little charts on the machines at the gym which show “fat burning zone” and “cardio zone.”

The truth is that the harder you work, the more calories you’ll burn per minute. Just because your heart rate is above the “fat-burning zone” doesn’t mean you’ll stop burning up fat. When you’re in the zone, it may be the case that a slightly higher percentage of the calories expended come from fat stores rather than the pre-exercise snack you ate – but experts agree that more vigorous exercise will definitely burn more fat overall and have wider fitness benefits.

5. The “if you exercise, you can eat anything” myth

If you’re a typical office worker, perhaps going to the gym three times a week and walking every day, don’t think that your exercise means you can eat as much as you like and not gain weight. Burning 300 to 500 calories in the gym is great – but you could put that straight back on by eating a couple of mars bars.

People with heavy manual labouring jobs can get away with eating a lot – the rest of us can’t. Exercise should form part of a healthy lifestyle, which means eating sensibly too.

6. Women shouldn’t weight train or they’ll bulk up

It’s hard for women to put on muscle, unless they’re making deliberate attempts to. If you’re female, don’t make the mistake of lifting light weights and doing lots of repetitions – you’ll be wasting your time. Choose weights which you can only lift 12-15 times before your muscles are tired; this will help you to tone and shape your body. You won’t pack on muscle by doing this – yes, men do, but that’s because of testosterone.

(Image above by Dru!)

The next four sections of the dieting basics series will cover some “hows and whys” (keeping food diaries, calorie-counting recipes and so on) – make sure you get RSS updates to have each post delivered straight to your feed reader.

  • Updated August 8, 2012
  • Basics

Five easy ways to make time to cook every evening

We all know that frozen ready meals, takeaways and endless sandwiches don’t make for great dinners. But sometimes it’s hard to find the time and energy to cook after a long day in the office. None of us want to come home, exhausted and hungry, and spend an hour chopping vegetables and cooking.

What we need is a healthy meal as quickly as possible. These are some of my failsafe tips for ensuring that preparing dinner is easy and fast.

1. Get everything ready in the morning

When you’re preparing your healthy packed lunch, allow an extra five minutes to sort out everything for your evening meal:

  • Transfer anything that needs to defrost (eg. prawns, chicken) from the freezer to fridge
  • Weigh the pasta/rice/potatoes
  • Grab any pots and pans you need and set them out
  • Dig out that jar of sauce or tin of chopped tomatoes from the cupboard
  • Check the vegetables are easy to access in the fridge

2. Buy bags of ready prepared vegetables

If you’re making a stir-fry, casserole, or anything that requires a lot of different chopped vegetables, it might well be worth buying these ready prepared. Supermarkets do a huge range of bagged stir fry veggies, and whilst you’ll get cheaper ones by buying loose, it’s worth going for the pre-prepared sort if time is at a premium.

3. Eat meals that require little “hands on” cooking

Some dinners need you to stand in the kitchen constantly stirring one pan, adding to another, and trying to keep a third from bubbling over. When you’re tired and busy, dishes that can be left to simmer on their own are best. Soups and stews are ideal, and simple meals such as baked potatoes with salad hardly require any preparation time.

4. Make double, freeze half

The majority of dishes can be refrigerated and reheated the next day, or frozen for use the following week. (Remember never to reheat rice, though.) When you’re making a bolognaise sauce, for example, double all the ingredients and keep half for another day – it will take a few minutes longer to prepare, but could easily save you three quarters of an hour on another night.

5. Take it in turns to cook

Agree at the start of the week with your partner or housemate which nights you’ll each be cooking on. This gives you both the chance to plan ahead and to be organised, and avoids any arguments when you come home from work about who’s had the worst day and consequently doesn’t want to cook…

One caveat is that you may find that you need to explain some basic healthy eating principles if you end up being served huge bowls of creamy cheesy pasta… (why not print out some of the recipes from The Office Diet for inspiration?)

(Image above by tschaut)

Don’t miss out on more tips to help you live a healthy lifestyle with a minimum of fuss – get RSS updates straight to your feed reader.

  • Updated August 8, 2012
  • Meals

Should you go on a holiday crash diet?

It’s the time of year when many of us are looking forward to a couple of weeks away from the office: sunshine, lazy lie-ins, new activities, a break from the usual routine. Though perhaps you’re feeling more apprehensive than excited – those stubborn extra pounds haven’t shifted, despite your repeated attempts to lose them.

When you only have a few weeks, it can be very tempting to go on a crash diet – to eat as little as possible in the hopes of losing a lot of weight in a short time. But very low calorie (VLC) diets (under 850 calories per day) can have severe effects on your health.

You might think that a few weeks won’t hurt, but cutting down your food intake so drastically can cause some nasty side effects, even in the short term, such as:

  • Constipation
  • Lethargy and extreme tiredness
  • Mood swings
  • Problems sleeping
  • Losing muscle rather than fat
  • Putting on all the weight you lost (and more) as soon as you start eating “normally” again on holiday….

(You can read more about this in my Diet Blog article The Risks of Very Low Calorie Diets.)

Do you want to start your break feeling exhausted and miserable from weeks of starving yourself? Is losing a few extra pounds really worth it?

If you only have a few weeks, I’d suggest eating healthily and sensibly – just like at any other time – though it’s also a good idea to keep treats to a minimum. Have plenty of fruit and veg, stick with wholegrains, drink lots of water, and do some toning exercises to help shape up any flabby bits.

Buy yourself some nice, flattering clothes that fit you at your current size – don’t make the mistake of buying something too small and trying to diet to fit into it.

Above all, enjoy your holiday: resolve to have a great time, even if you’re not at your ideal weight yet, and make sure you try out plenty of new activities and new foods.

(Image above by Malias)


Exercise: getting started, staying motivated, seeing improvements

This is the ninth part of the dieting basics series — all the earlier posts are linked to from the series introduction.

Why do you need to exercise?

You can lose weight just by dieting alone – eating less to create a calorie deficit which your body will compensate for by burning up fat for energy. However, for easier and long-lasting weight loss, it’s best to do some exercise too, because:

  • Exercising burns up calories, meaning you get to eat more – allowing you to easily get all the nutrients that you need and enjoy an occasional treat!
  • Your appetite can be regulated by exercise, making it easier to stick to your diet.
  • Muscles are built up by exercise: this both prevents you from losing muscle instead of fat when you diet, and also helps tone and shape your body. Even better, a pound of muscle burns up more calories than a pound of fat – many experts believe up to an extra 50 calories per day per pound of muscle.
  • There are a number of health benefits from exercising which go beyond weight loss. Your immune system gets a boost – meaning you’re less likely to catch colds – and exercise is also recommended to fight mild depression and stress.

Getting started: exercise for beginners

If you’re new to exercise, make sure you begin gently and build up slowly. Many of us aren’t even meeting the minimum recommended guidelines, so that’s a good point to aim for to being with!

Start off with light exercise, such as gentle walking, and progress to brisk walking, jogging or cycling. If you’re very overweight and unfit, just do a few minutes each day during the first week, then add five or ten minutes a day during each subsequent week until you can exercise for half an hour continuously.

Don’t be put off joining a gym by thinking that it’ll be full of super-fit bodybuilders with bulging muscles – gyms are used by a wide range of people, many of them beginners. The most common reason given for joining a gym is wanting to lose weight – so there’ll be lots of fellow dieters there who are also trying to get into shape.

Many gyms offer a free personalised programme as part of your induction – take full advantage of this, and explain what you want to achieve to your instructor. They’ll make a plan especially for you: it might seem challenging to begin with but should be achievable.

Staying motivated

Find an exercise buddy to work out with – this could be one of your colleagues who’ll come for a walk with you at lunchtime, a friend who’ll meet you for a swim after work, or your partner who’ll go jogging with you at the weekend. It’s much harder to weasel out of a workout when you’ve made a commitment to someone else to do it.

Alternatively, if you really can’t find someone to work out with, make sure your exercise becomes a habit. Perhaps you always go to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – or maybe first thing Saturday morning is a great time to hit the swimming pool. Put your exercise sessions in your diary at the start of the week and treat them as non-negotiable appointments.

After you’ve been exercising for a few weeks or months, you might be getting bored of your usual workout. This is a great time to mix things up a bit: try out some new machines in the gym (the instructors are always happy to demonstrate the correct technique), sign up for a new class that you’ve not tried before, take a different route on your next walk or run.

Sometimes we become focused on the end result of exercise – getting to an ideal weight, fitting into those old jeans, or having great muscles. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey too … exercise should be rewarding and even fun on a daily basis, not just as a series of steps towards a distant goal.

Seeing improvements

Keep a notebook or spreadsheet with a record of all your exercise sessions, right from day one. It’s extremely motivating to look back and see the progression you’ve made. Read over your log whenever you’re feeling discouraged. Perhaps the first time you used the treadmill in the gym, you could only walk briskly for ten minutes … and now you’re jogging for twenty. Maybe that initial swimming session that you were apprehensive about in week four has now become a bi-weekly treat.

Have your programme reviewed regularly at the gym: the instructors will help you to step it up a notch so you see continual improvements rather than stagnating. Alternatively, just progress to the next level on cardio machines and add a few kilos to the weights you’re lifting every four-six weeks: once level 10 on the crosstrainer starts getting easy and comfortable, kick it up to level 11!

Once you’ve been working out for a few months or even years, exercise has hopefully become an integral part of your life. Whenever you feel that it’s a waste of time, or that you “should do more”, remember yourself before you started exercising. If you’re anything like me, your former self would probably be astonished at how much activity you now fit into your life … and how much you enjoy it!

Keep track of your weight, body fat percentage and waist size: have you dropped a few pounds? Has your body fat percentage reduced? Are you buying clothes in a smaller size? These are all great signs that your exercise is paying off, and a deserved reward for all your hard work!

(Image above by sirwiseowl)

Don’t miss the next post in this series, covering the best ways to exercise if you’re overweight and unfit. Grab the RSS feed and get every post delivered straight to your feed reader.

  • Updated August 8, 2012
  • Basics

Weekend reading from other Office Dieters

I’ve been reading lots of fantastic articles discussing, bemoaning or tackling office-diet-centric issues … so there’s some great pieces for you to browse this weekend:

Walking to work brings new dilemmas from The Guardian Newspaper

I have also been walking to work and back every day – 45 minutes each way, at a pace – and have therefore encountered the many issues associated with doing that most sensible thing: integrating exercise into your working day. For instance, should you wear a specific exercise outfit while doing it, then change into your work clothes when you get there?

I’m really enjoying Kira’s weight-loss series, and she tackles one of those familiar problems to The Office Diet’s readers: fitting exercise around the work day. Walking to/from work is a great idea, but if you’re looking for other ways, try my article:
Exercising before and after work, and Squeezing exercise into your lunch hour.)

Weight Loss on the Job from Health has no Fury

Do you ever feel like jumping off a cliff when you think of eating healthy? Today is one of those days. I woke up already knowing that it would be a struggle. While I love feeling great and losing weight, I’m not perfect. I still have days where you literally have to drag me to the gym. I’ll admit — trying to balance work, a social life and a healthy lifestyle has become mind numbing.

Good, practical tips for office maintainers — those of us who’ve lost weight and don’t want to regain it! I’m definitely in agreement about bringing your own lunch, too … my article on office lunches has some ideas for bringing your own, as well as tips on what to do when you have to eat out.

The credit lunch: tasty recipes to get you through the week from The Guardian Newspaper

One of the first things to go after a financial re-assessment is the daily trip to the sandwich shop … We’ve provided a week’s menu of delicious lunch recipes – each day’s suggestion will feed two people, so rope in your housemate, colleague or partner. You’ll need a budget of £20 a week for both of you (compared with up to £50 for nipping out every day) and the dishes require a bare minimum of skill and time to create.

There’s some tasty, and cheapish, packed lunch ideas here — though I’m disconcerted that crudites and dips counts as a whole meal! If you want a really simple, cheap and easy shopping list try 17 ingredients, 6 sandwiches, 10 days of fantastic, healthy, lunches. It shows just how cheap it can be to eat lunch on a budget.

Swamped? Try the Okefenokee diet from Cranky Fitness

Set limits on how much crap I will take in one day. Most stressful is having several people pile things on my back. One manager I can train deal with, three or four bossy bosses… no. This is the tricky part. If you bitch too loud, you’ll end up on the street. If you bitch too little, you can get overloaded, stress out, and end up in a room with padded walls.

Great tips from Merry, over on Cranky Fitness, about dealing with work-related stress and managing to stay sane and eat healthily regardless. (If you feel like you’re drowning in emails and projects, you might also like my article How healthy habits keep your stress levels down.)

(Image above by d4vidbruce)

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