Monthly Archives: August 2008

Listening to your body – exercise

I’ve discussed how you can listen to your body to ensure that you’re eating in a healthy way for you. Today, I want to look at some popular exercise advice, and encourage you to think about what works for you. I’m going to cover these three key questions:

  • When do you prefer to exercise?
  • How frequently should you work out?
  • What types of exercise make you feel good?

When do you prefer to exercise?

Many experts have made recommendations on the best time to exercise. Two of the most common are that:

  • People who hit the gym first thing in the morning get a bigger happiness boost from their workout.
  • Exercising between 5pm and 7pm is the best time for your body, due to a range of physiological factors.

For most of us working in office jobs, early morning and the 5-7pm slot after work are good times to exercise. It’s worth trying both out, and deciding how they make you feel.

I personally find that exercising any time before 11am makes me really sleepy for the rest of the day. If I go to the gym before breakfast, I’m ready for a nap around 10am … so if your body reacts like mine, early morning work outs are probably not such a good idea unless you have a very understanding boss.

Lots of people, though, find that exercising first thing helps them to wake up and start their day in a positive frame of mind.

Some office workers find that going straight to the gym from work helps them to unwind and relax tense muscles after a long day hunched over a desk. But for others, the last thing they can face at the end of a day’s work is a gruelling gym session. They might perk up after an early dinner, though, and go out for a run or to an exercise class.

What works for you?

How frequently should you work out?

Another vexed question in the fitness world is how often you should work out. The most common figure given is three gym sessions a week – but what if you walk, or cycle, or exercise in some other way?

The UK government exercise guidelinesare minimum targets, so you’ll want to do at least that much light-moderate exercise. For more intense sessions, though, think about:

  • Does my body feel tired if I try to exercise two days in a row?
  • Do I find it harder to complete my workout if I’ve not been to the gym for a week or two?

For most people, a workout every other day or every three days is about right, but you might find you like to do a slightly less intense session daily. Don’t let enthusiastic colleagues drag you to the gym every day, if you’re ending up exhausted and aching. Conversely, just because your friend always has an excuse to skip your joint workouts doesn’t mean you too should get away with only going once a week.

What types of exercise make you feel good?

I had an over-keen gym instructor for my induction, who set me up with a plan that included running for 15 minutes at quite a steep incline (well, it felt quite steep!) on the treadmill. I managed to force myself to do 10 minutes for the first few weeks, but hated it; I’d almost be in tears because it was so hard and because I blamed myself for not being fit enough. It took me several minutes to recover each time, glugging water and breathing hard, and each time I though “well, at least that’s over for another two days…”

Thankfully, I quickly realised that it would be better to work out at a slightly lower intensity rather than give up altogether!

Don’t stick with a workout, exercise or sport that consistently leaves you feeling awful. That might mean cutting back the intensity a bit, dropping the class that has you aching for days afterwards, or not forcing yourself through so many repetitions on the weights.

Also, if you don’t feel any different after a session, you might need to ramp up the intensity a bit – or try an alternative type of exercise. If you’re working out at a good rate, you’ll hopefully feel relaxed and de-stressed afterwards – a gentle stroll probably won’t have that effect.

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Some great online reads

It’s a while since I’ve shared some of my favourite online articles, so here’s a few links to some that I hope you enjoy.

A KISS Guide to Your Calorie Intake by Drew from Diet Tired.

Servings DO NOT have specific calorie amounts as the calorie content will depend on the specific food item. However, there are some generalizations or estimates that can be made.

For example, a serving size of most fruits and vegetables would provide 50-100 calories. While a serving of meat provides approximately 200 kcal.

Once you have a good grasp of serving sizes they can then be equated to calorie values.

If you find calorie counting a hassle because you’re busy, give this method a try. (Drew also explains what a “serving” is and how it differs from a portion in a previous post.) The whole Diet Tired blog is great, and emphasises healthy eating rather than faddish diets: spend some time checking it out, as if you like The Office Diet, I think you’ll love Drew’s blog.

How To Stop Feeling Pressure To Lose Weight – Drop Those Shoulds! by JoLynn Braley from The Fit Shack

Many people (maybe even you) live with a daily pressure, a feeling that they need to lose weight, that they should lose weight. This pressure might seem to be coming from the outside, from media, family, friends, doctors, but it actually all comes from the inside, from your thoughts and beliefs telling yourself that you need to lose weight.

There’s some really wise words here. I too believe we need to “drop those shoulds”: unless you’re under Doctor’s instructions, there’s no SHOULD about losing weight. If you want more of my thoughts on this, check out one of my recent posts on Diet-Blog: How Do You Talk About Your Diet?

Fun Way to Lose Weight: Turn Dieting Into an RPG by Clive Thompson from Wired.

Why did Weight Watchers work so well? For a really fascinating reason: because it isn’t a normal diet. It’s something more. Something fun.

It’s an RPG.

The Weight Watchers program is designed precisely like a role-playing dungeon crawler. That’s why people love it, stick to it and have success with it.

This article really struck a chord with me because of my mis-spent youth playing online RPGs, and because I’ve used Weight Loss Resources to successfully lose weight (which works in a very similar way to the Weight Watchers’ online system described by Clive.)

Superfoods for the Brain from Vanessa from Megavista:

Your brain performs more tasks than all of your other organs put together. To do this it requires vast amounts of energy and nutrients making it the greediest organ in the body.

I’m always a wee bit sceptical about “superfoods”, but the list here is of great nutritious foods with well-documented benefits. Vanessa also offers some fantastic menu suggestions to easily incorporate them in your diet.

How can you bring the restaurant experience home? by Tim Hayward from The Guardian

1. When you enter your dining room stand nervously waiting until you can show yourself to your table. Be sure to make clear that you don’t actually like the table you’ve selected then assure yourself that it’s the only one available on such a busy night before accepting it – ungraciously. The main advantage of your own dining room is that you always get the best table … and the worst.

This one isn’t strictly speaking dieting-related but it made me laugh. (Especially as, like many people, I’m eating out less at the moment in order to save a few pennies.) Hopefully your usual restaurant experience isn’t quite as bad as Tim’s!

If you have a favourite diet/fitness/food related article online, drop me an email ( and let me know.


Listening to your body – eating well

I wrote a post for Pick the Brain last week about listening to your body when it comes to sifting through all the good and bad advice out there about dieting:

Often, we mistrust the advice being peddled – and with good reason. But this shouldn’t lead us to stop caring about what we put into our mouths altogether. One of the best ways to cut through the hype, the fads and the ridiculous promises is to figure out what works for your body.

The article went down well, but was aimed at people in general who have an interest in staying healthy – so I want to draw out some points here which are particularly relevant for office dieters trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss. I’m going to help you think about three key questions:

  • How often should you eat?
  • How much should you eat?
  • How does alcohol make you feel?

How often should you eat?

Some dieticians and nutritionists recommend eating frequently – often suggesting splitting your food intake into five or six small meals a day, rather than three bigger ones. Others say you shouldn’t go more than three hours without eating.

On the other hand, some cultures that take their time over meals and rarely snack (such as the French) have a very low percentage of obesity in their population.

So who should you believe?

I’ve found it best to go with what feels right for me. That usually means a high degree of flexibility; on a typical day in the office, I’d eat breakfast, then a piece of fruit mid morning, a light lunch (usually a sandwich and more fruit), and a snack such as a cereal bar or crispbread either mid-afternoon or when I got home from work. But sometimes I might have a larger lunch, or have fruit for breakfast at home, then a bigger snack mid-morning.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I get hungry if I don’t eat every three-four hours?If so, you’ll be best splitting your calorie intake into smaller meals and snacks in between.
  • Do I like to feel properly full after a meal, then wait until I’ve got a good appetite to eat the next one?If so, try cutting out the snacks.

Either way, what matters is how many calories you consume over the course of a day – not how frequently you eat. In general, though, it’s unwise to let yourself get too hungry; you’ll be much more inclined to overeat once you do get to a meal.

How much should you eat?

It’s tempting when on a diet to cut your food intake as much as possible – surely the less you eat, the faster you’ll lose weight? This is a really bad idea, though, as your body will cling stubbornly to the few calories which you are taking in. If your diet plan recommends 1,100 calories a day but you’re suffering regular hunger pangs, then eat a bit more.

(Eating too little also affects your energy and concentration levels, and makes it really hard to exercise effectively.)

On the other hand, you might find that your diet plan allows more calories than you need – especially if you have a lot of weight to lose. So long as you’re getting at least 1,100 calories per day, don’t feel that you have to eat every last calorie if you’re already full.

Again, this is about learning to trust your body and figure out what works well. Once you finish your diet, you’ll need to maintain your weight loss – which means knowing what the right amount of food for you is.

How does alcohol make you feel?

Some people react more strongly to alcohol than others, but in general, most of us find:

  • Alcohol tends to make us hungrier
  • Alcohol reduces our will-power
  • Alcohol can change our sleeping pattern

You might be able to drink a couple of glasses of wine with no discernable effects. On the other hand, if you’re like me, just a small glass of wine can be enough to make you “snackish” and make those crisps and nuts extra-tempting. If so, you may want to try restricting alcohol to just one or two days of the week.

For some people, a moderate amount of alcohol in the evening helps them to unwind and can help them sleep. Others sleep badly if they drink any alcohol, and often end up waking very early after a few hours of disturbed sleep. How does alcohol affect your sleeping? If you always have a bad night after drinking, it’s probably not a good idea to indulge on a “work night”…

In many ways, the important part of being on a healthy eating plan or diet isn’t to lose weight – it’s to change your habits. The weight loss is just a side effect. You need to learn to pay attention to your body, understanding how much food it needs and what foods are best for you: that way, you’ll be set for permanent success.

(Image above by 尽在不言中)

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Keeping up your motivation while dieting

I’ve been working on a few different projects recently – things which I’m keen to do, but which are at the early stages with a lot of work ahead! I find that my enthusiasm tends to go up and down, following a pattern like this:

  • I think of a new idea or project to pursue, and I’m excited!
  • I begin to plan, think about what it’ll be like to complete this goal, etc.
  • I make a start, still feeling enthusiastic.
  • I start to realise just how much work lies ahead… and my motivation plummets.

Does that sound familiar? I suspect most of us follow similar patterns, and when working on a long-term goal like losing weight, it can seem that there’s a huge mountain ahead to climb. There’ll be days, even weeks, when you feel discouraged and wonder why you ever started trying to eat more healthily.
Here’s how to stay motivated for the long haul:

Have your end goal in sight

Write down what you’re going to achieve, or draw/find an image that represents this. Maybe you’ll be at a certain weight, or maybe you’ll be fit enough to run for twenty minutes on the treadmill. Perhaps you want to buy clothes that are several sizes smaller than your current ones. Having a vague or woolly goal like “I want to lose some weight” means you won’t know when you get there – be clear about what exactly you want to achieve.

Make the journey enjoyable

Don’t just think about the jeans you’ll be able to fit into next year, gritting your teeth through every step it takes to get there – make sure you enjoy the journey too. Never see your diet as a punishment or a deprivation: see it as an opportunity to eat more healthily and to get creative with meals! How about:

  • Trying a new exotic fruit every week
  • Enjoying some favourite low-fat treats (prawns are one of mine)
  • Getting together with some like-minded friends for a “healthy dinner party”
  • Making your exercise sociable and fun (ice-skating, Frisbee, country walks)

Build up good habits

One of my favourite sayings, by Jim Ryun, is:

Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going.

There will be days when you feel like ditching the diet and eating three doughnuts for lunch. But the habit of going for a lunchtime walk and enjoying your packed lunch in the park can keep you on the straight and narrow during those times. Similarly, if you always stock the cupboards and fridge with healthy ingredients at the weekend, you won’t be so tempted to pick up a Chinese on your way home.

Realise that motivation naturally wavers

You’ll have days when you feel really positive and enthusiastic about your diet, days when you’re certain you’re going to succeed. Take advantage of these times to fit in some extra exercise, to try out a healthy recipe that you’ve never attempted before, or to write yourself a “motivation note” (put it in a sealed envelope with your name on).

There’ll also be days when you just don’t care any more, when you feel like there’s so far to go that you may as well give up. Days when you crave a king-sized chocolate bar. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is what it’ll be like from now on: ride out the motivation slump, and you’ll soon be feeling enthusiastic again. This is a great time to take out that “motivation note” that you wrote when you were at a high point, read it over, and plough onwards…

(Image above by vikapproved)

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Office lunches – beyond the sandwich

It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut with lunch, eating a succession of sandwiches throughout the week – often with the same type of bread and the same filling each day. Whether you take in a packed lunch or buy something from the nearest shop, sandwiches can start to get boring.

But what alternatives are there which are just as easy to eat in the company breakroom, or in the local park? Here’s a few which I’ve eaten in the office:

Pasta salad

One of my favourite non-sandwich lunches is a homemade pasta salad. It’s easy to throw together in the morning, and transports well in a Tupperware box. Just pop it in the fridge at work and enjoy at lunch time. (Don’t forget your fork.)

Most supermarkets have some pasta salads alongside their sandwiches; keep an eye out for low-fat varieties. Even the standard ranges tend to be fairly healthy – pick chicken, prawns or tomato-sauce based options.

Rice salad

A rice salad is another easy lunch-time meal, and can often consist simply of last night’s leftovers: risotto or paella tastes just fine cold! (Just a reminder: never reheat cooked rice, and keep it properly refrigerated.) Brown rice is a great healthy option if you’re making your salad from scratch.

Again, you can find a wide range of ready-to-eat rice salads in supermarkets: look out for ones with plenty of vegetables or beans.


If you have access to a microwave at work, soup is a great option. (Some soups are also designed to be eaten cold.) Buy fresh soup if you can – or make your own and bring it to work in an airtight container – as tinned soups tend to be higher in sugar and lower in actual vegetables.

A bowl and spoon helps here, but if you’re lacking these, a big mug is just as good. Try a crusty wholemeal roll with your soup, or a few crispbreads.


One of my favourite lunches is cold noodle stir-fry; the flavours come out best when it’s been in the fridge for a few hours. This is also a great lazy option – cook extra stir-fry the night before, then pop the leftovers into a leak-proof Tupperware box in the fridge.

All you need to do in the morning is remember to pick it up!

Alternatives to bread

Sometimes, you don’t have to depart too far from the concept of a sandwich in order to get a decent change. How about switching your usual two slices of bread for:

  • A bagel (low fat cream cheese and smoked salmon works well)
  • Crispbreads (cottage cheese, hummous or guacamole are good toppings)
  • Rice cakes (again, cottage cheese complements these nicely)
  • Tortilla wraps (fill with salad and lean protein like ham or chicken)
  • Pitta bread (stuff with prawns and lettuce)

A monotonous diet often equals a failed diet, so pick a day each week (perhaps Fridays?) to take in a “different” lunch and make your midday meal something to look forward to.

(Image above by


Summer excuses – busted!

The weather’s glorious, the sun’s shining, that “holiday feeling” is in the air, and it just doesn’t feel like the right time to focus on dieting. It’s easy to find a whole host of excuses to put off making changes to our eating and exercising patterns – or to avoid sticking with the good habits we’ve already established.

Here’s some popular summer excuses … and my reasons why they just won’t cut it!

It’s too hot to exercise

Sure, a blazing hot day probably isn’t the best time for a five mile jog … but your gym will have air-conditioning or fans to keep the temperature down. If you don’t have gym membership, what about heading for a cooling swim in your local pool?

If you really can’t face doing anything energetic, get out for a walk when it’s not too warm (earlier morning or after dinner) and enjoy the gorgeous weather.

I don’t want to cook in this weather

None of us fancy spending hours in a steamy kitchen during summer, but dialling for a pizza or stocking up on frozen ready meals won’t get you any closer to your healthy eating goals. Try out some light dinners instead: one of my favourites is prawn wraps with crudités – no cooking involved.

Other good options include big summer salads, cold soups like gazpacho, or quick-cook recipes like stir-fries.

I don’t want to diet on holiday

When you’re enjoying yourself and taking a well-deserved break from the office, the last thing you want to have on your mind is calories. That’s reasonable enough – but eating chips dipped in mayo twice a day isn’t …

Relax while you’re on your holiday, but try to keep up your fruit and vegetable intake and have fun without ruining your diet.

Everyone else is eating ice-cream …

There are certain summer treats that some of us (okay, me!) find it very hard to refuse: ice-creams featuring highly on the list. It’s fine to indulge occasionally, but if a three-scoop cone is becoming an everyday event, it’s time to look for some alternatives.

Frozen yoghurts, sorbets and juice lollies are all good options; see my post on alternatives to ice-cream over at Diet-Blog.

(Image above by

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