It must be all the double cream

It must be all the double cream

I was both shocked and appalled by the article “No pain no gain” in The Sunday Times Style yesterday. Spread over four pages, this was an article espousing the benefits of crash dieting over losing weight in a more steady and sensible fashion.

First of all the title, No pain no gain, how Draconian. As it happens, I agree with them but I think I mean a different sort of pain. I’m talking of the kind you get the morning after a good run or boxercise class, when your muscles ache because you’ve had a good work out. They are talking about a constant niggling of hunger, not to mention the emotional pain felt when one inevitably falls off the crash-diet-wagon and stuffs the nearest thing resembling carbs down one’s throat. (Ouch, cardboard hurts.)

The imagery they use supports their idea of extremes. On the first double page spread there is a picture of a corset with a measuring tape pulled around the waist, straining it in. The invisible person wearing this corset seems to have a waist of approximately 25 inches. Is that the kind of measurement anyone apart from Victoria Beckham should realistically be aiming towards? (And I only say Victoria Beckham should be because that would entail putting on a few pounds.)

Now on to the thrust of the article. “New research shows that far from being bad for you, crash diets can be a safe and effective way to keep the pounds off,” proclaims the standfirst. Yes, you’ve got it, Tufts University in Massachusetts (a very honourable institution I’m sure) says it’s true so it must be.

To be fair to Olivia Gordon – the woman who wrote the piece – she does give the balancing view of Dr Peter Rowan who warns dieting and eating disorders go hand in hand (shocker) but really the damage has already been done. If someone even gets to this token section, tacked on the end of the article, they have already been lambasted with six paragraphs on the ‘joys’ of crash dieting:

“So what if we fasted for 48 hours, drinking only water, diet cola and black coffee, then munched a 400-calorie meal then fasted again for 48 hours more? We lost 1st in four days – even if it was dangerously extreme.”

It is precisely because of attitudes like this I want to get into the health and fitness sector. Somebody has to fight (and write) against all the drivel out there filling women’s heads with nonsense. Is it too much to ask for some responsible journalism where the issue of weight is concerned? People seem to forget the influence their articles can have and I expected more from Style to be honest.

The only saving grace was provided by the case study. Simon Glazin describes how he lost 7st in three months through using meal-replacement drinks in an effort to take control of his weight (21st at the time). In conjunction with his Dr and with the support of his family and friends Simon managed to turn his life around. He acknowledges such drastic action is not best-suited to everybody, “I would never suggest such a dramatic diet programme to just anyone. It worked for me mainly because it had to.”

But any good work done by this far from stereotypical advocate of ‘the right crash diet in the right circumstances,’ is promptly undone by the box-out alongside: “Crash and burn – extreme diets we love to hate” which provides a handy summary of the best crash diets and which celebrities endorse them. Thanks Style, where would I be without you?


N.B Following a comment from Olivia herself, here is a link to the online version of her article. I don’t think it illustrates the points I made about the layout, headline and strap but the writing is the same.

This guy maybe knew what he was doing...

This guy maybe knew what he was doing...

Today I was at the gym and I saw something which made my blood boil: two guys lifting weights that were obviously too heavy for them, and letting their form suffer as a consequence.

When I say form, what I mean is their posture and positioning, a crucial element of both gaining results and remaining injury free.

As I sat on the bike, watching with a morbid fascination I usually reserve for Discovery Channel documentaries,  I actually had to stop myself from going over and saying something to these berks. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have thanked me anyway.

But this prompted me to wonder where the members of staff were? On each machine in the gym there’s a notice advising you to ask floor staff if you are having any trouble. Putting aside the stubborn pride of most men, surely an instructor should always be on hand to dispense information and keep an eye out for dangerous use of equipment?

On the way out, I mentioned to one of the instructors what I had witnessed, “Ah those guys,” he remarked, “They’ve been coming here for years and we’ve given up trying to tell them what they are doing wrong – they just don’t listen.”

Maybe not quite the right attitude, but in all fairness he did then spend five minutes telling me the main principles of good form so I could write this blog post. Here’s what he had to say:

1. Engage your core muscles – very important for supporting your back, doing this will also help tone and flatten your stomach. And it’s not limited to weight lifting either, when doing cardio you should try to remember to keep your pelvic and abdominal muscles tight. In gym classes, good instructors will usually remind you – on average every other minute to, “Pull your belly-button towards your spine.”

2. Keep your knees soft – locking your legs straight puts a strain on the knees and lower back. If you are standing to lift weights, make sure to keep a slight bend in the knees. An alternative is to stand with one leg slightly behind the other to give better balance.

3. Do not use momentum to  lift the weight – for instance, if you are doing bicep curls, keep your elbows close to your sides and do not use your back to add extra swing. It is far more beneficial to lift a lighter weight using correct form than a heavier weight using other muscles to help you along. More importantly, your back won’t thank you if you keep treating it in this way.

4. Pace yourself – similarly, take your time to fulfil the whole range of movement. A good way of doing this is to count to two or three while on the way out and to at least three on the way back in. There’s no prizes for the fastest, and your muscles will respond better to a smooth, consistent technique.

I still think there should be someone around to look out for people not following these simple principles. The thing is, some people have probably never been told, or have forgotten the information given to them on their induction day, and could do with a refresher. I am fortunate enough to have had some great instructors in the past who ingrained the basics into my head, and I still have to make a conscious effort to “pull that tummy in”!

While we are on the topic of things that annoy us at the gym, I found this humorous article about gym etiquette. I’d be interested to hear what gets your goat when you’re trying to get a sweat on?

The programme was about genuinely desperate housewives

The programme was about genuinely desperate housewives


Last night I watched Desperately Hungry Housewives on BBC1. I was in two minds about whether or not to do so because since starting my new fitness regime (Operation Bridesmaid) I’ve had a couple of friends voice concerns over the possibility I may take things too far and get a bit obsessed.

Watching a programme about anorexia and bulimia, especially considering I had just munched my way through a plate of homemade millionaire shortbread, was maybe not the best thing to do. Seriously, I don’t know where the heck I was when God was handing out the self-control, one whiff of chocolate and I’m away.

Thankfully, as I listened to Zoe, Tracey, Jane and Georgia recount their stories, I felt nothing but empathy for them. In fact, I would go as far as to say I pitied them. Here were four women who for one reason or another had a relationship with food which had at times taken over their lives. For some of them, sadly, it still was taking over.

Each of them still fought daily to combat their issues and the likelihood of them feeling completely at ease with food in the future seemed extremely slim (no pun intended). The history of Georgia’s anorexia in particular shocked me. We were shown skelatal photographs of her at the peak of her illness aged 18. Now, a young mum, she was dieting to lose those post-baby pounds and restricting herself to the extent that she wouldn’t eat a slice of her other son’s birthday cake.

The danger of her slipping back into old habits hung over the household. But she said herself there was nothing she could do. As I sat there, nursing a slight feeling of nausea from the millionaire shortbread debacle, I was so thankful that I didn’t feel the compulsion to go and make myself sick in the way that Tracey, one of the other sufferers, would do at night after her chidren had gone to bed.

But this got me thinking: What about viewers who do suffer from eating disorders? How would they react to this programme? I am by no means an expert on the subject but I have heard before that anorexia and bulimia can be very competitive conditions. The existence of pro-anorexia websites – as discussed in this article – show the dangers of this. Would some women watching Desperately Hungry Housewives last night see it as a challenge or inspiration?

Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that raising the awareness of these illnesses is important and I am not suggesting that the producers portrayed these women as role models. However, I think it has to be remembered that issues like these are highly complex and while raising awareness we could inadvertently be providing inspiration for other sufferers or for those on the brink of a downward spiral.

I would be interested to hear what other people think?

Break a sweat - tired of doing the same old moves? Interval training is for you!

Break a sweat - tired of doing the same old moves? Interval training is for you!

For those of you who have asked for more detail on the interval training I’ve been doing here you go. As I’ve said before, it’s courtesy of Wesley at Men’s Health, and so far I’m loving it:

Interval Workout

5 minute easy warm up

5 minutes short intervals – break down into 15 secs high intensity, followed by 45 secs low intensity. This should be done on a machine you rarely use, I’ve been doing it on the rower since I hate the damn thing.

5 minutes rest – this seems like a long time but you have to make sure your heart rate returns to its natural resting level.

20-40 minutes regular cardio – do this on a machine you use a lot, and keep up a moderately high intensity throughout. I’ve been using the bike for this one.

5-10 minutes long intervals – break down into 30 secs high intensity followed by 30 secs low intensity and gradually work up to doing 1 minute high intensity 1 minute low intensity. Do this on whatever machine you like. I’ve been using the treadmill.

3 minute easy cool down

I’ve been adding some super sets of weight training on the end for some toning benefits. I’ll talk more about that soon. Let me know if you try the workout and what you think of it.