Theory Thursday

Pedal power

And lastly, to the pedals.  Adding to the list of “more things to buy for your bike”.  You can go with the pedals that come with your bike.


You should try to wear hard soled shoes if you do that – air-soled running shoes take the wind out of your pushing power.  You can add “clips” or little cages for your toes to lock in so you can pull up as well as push down.  

This takes a bit of getting used to – remembering when you slow down to stop that your feet aren’t free.  Or you can go “clip less”

Proper pedals

For the real cycling experience, you need pedals with bike shoes that lock in so that you smoothly pedal with power all round the turn.  There are a baffling amount of options, but the basic premise is you “clip in ” as you move off and you unclip by twisting your foot as your roll to a stop.  Forget that and you capsize!

Road bike shoes look like this:

With external cleats that make you walk like a duck when you stop at the cafe and are extremely slippy.

MTB shoes look like this:

With recessed cleats so you can walk normally.  

The difference is the ease of clipping in and out.  Road shoes clip more firmly for better power transfer to the pedals (faster!).  But easier to forget or get in a pickle and fall off.  MTBs have easier release so perfect for beginners.

Types of pedal

They mostly look like this:

Advantages being that the pressure on the ball of your foot is quite wide, disadvantages (for a novice)  being you get clipped in tightly = more falling off potential

But you can get these:

If you want an easier in and out and also you can clip in on either side which might make you feel more confident.  You can see these have a smaller area under the ball of your foot so some riders get a “hot spots” of pressure discomfort on a long ride.

There isn’t much theory to add, although there is an Australian study confirming that riders over the age of 26 get more foot pain when clipped in than younger riders.  But you didn’t need science to tell you that!

Theory Thursday


Now that you’ve got your helmet, your frame and your wet weather gear, you’ll want to be picking your gear-set for your bike.  You might go with what you’re given, or you might want to customise.

Gears make ALL the difference to your energy expenditure.  If you’re planning a long ride, or a run afterwards, you want to save your legs as much as possible.  So here’s the low down!

Gear Geek Corner

If you want to read all about it you can try this.  Or you can follow our random ramble through the gears:


look ma – no brakes!

You might decide it’s all a bit complex.  You want to keep things simple and you don’t go up or downhill much.  You can get a bike with only one gear ratio.  You can have a “single-speed” bike where you can freewheel or you can have a single-speed bike with a fixed gear.  Fixed gear bikes (fixies) are “bang on trend” (as Cosmo would have it) with cute colours, retro styling and a subculture of reckless speed and perversity: you can’t coast so you have to keep pedalling (thus getting faster!), some people don’t even add brakes they just slowly stop pedalling/skip or skid to a stop.  If you go uphill you work harder.

Recommended for – hipster wannabes

Not recommended for  – the Lake district


This is what you will commonly find on a road bike.  You can have multiple sprockets on the back (3-11) and up to three chain rings on the front to give you from 3 to 33 gear ratios.  Why do you want that?  So that if you cycle uphill the gears take the hard work out of your legs.  Like driving your car you change down to go uphill and “spin” your legs around faster but more easily and when you’re zooming downhill you can “change up” and get more power through your legs to make the bike go faster and faster.

Recommended for – long journeys and hills

Not recommended for – the easily confused 😉

Gear Technique

Assuming you’ve gone for a derailleur system you need to learn how and when to change gears.  Some of it is a matter of preference, some is common sense.  It’s easy to push the pedals round when the front cog is small and the back cog is large – it will slow you down but get you up a hill easily.  If both are medium sized you can roll along a flat road feeling a nice power transition and pedalling smoothly.  If you get a big front cog and small back you are working harder, but going faster.

Normal rides

So for a short to medium undulating ride you want to be in a middle gear on the flat, change down in advance of any hills and change up at the top to whizz down.

Long rides

But some people going for 60+ miles like to “spin” their legs all the time at a high cadence (rate of pedalling) and a low gear.  This saves the quads from working too hard & “feeling the burn” so you can endure the long ride.

Hilly rides

You’ve got two choices.  Sit down and spin or stand up & mash.  (or a bit of both?!)

Sit down & spin: the theory is that sitting down keeps your weight evenly distributed over the front and back wheel keeping contact with the road evenly spreading the friction and being more aerodynamic.  Also, bodyweight supported by the saddle = less energy expended.  You change down to a low gear at the bottom of the hill and spin your legs with a fast cadence allowing you to persevere up any hill.

proponents – Chris Froome, heavyweights

Stand up and mash: also known as “dancing on the pedals”, but I guess that’s a matter of framing!  This is where you stay in a higher gear and stand up and even start to rock the bike underneath you as you climb with a slower cadence.  Harder work on the quads but potentially less strain on your back and allows you to use more muscles to power up the hill.  Less aerodynamic.

proponents – Alberto Contador, flyweights

A bit of both:  probably the best thing to do is start seated in a low gear and slowly get up the hill.  As you reach the top and know you’ve got some “oomph” left in you and it gets steeper than 10% you might want to stand up and push the last little bit.

Theory Thursday

Bike Sizing

So, you’ve got your helmet sorted, but what if you haven’t got a bike in the shed, or you want to upgrade or change from your old hybrid/commuter/mountain bike to a road bike for triathlon racing?  You need to buy a bike!

do you need a new bike??

You’ll want to set a budget.  Starting at £200 and going up to over £5000, road bikes are a big outlay.  The more you spend, the lighter the bike (easier uphill!) and the better the components.  But, in the end, the bike is only as good as the rider!  We also think, the bike is only as good as the fit.  If you end up spending long hours in the saddle on a 100 mile sportive, you don’t want to be cramped or overstretched.  Equally, if you want to go fast, efficient “power transfer” depends on having the right size (of frame) and fit (saddle and handlebar position, crank arm length)

Off the peg frame-sizing

If you are a normal-sized adult then there’s no problem in buying “off the peg”.  You will want to know your inside leg measurement and your total height.  You might need to add your

“ape index” – arm span minus height.

Every manufacturer and brand and frame design has a slightly different “geometry”, and you should be able to research this online, within your chosen budget, before even approaching the bike shop.  Generally, the manufacturer will recommend frame size (based on the length of the top tube) by your height.  

But then you need to go into the bike geometry for that frame size and check the “standover height”  This is where your inside leg comes into play.  ideally you want 3-5cm clearance in height over the top tube to avoid uncomfortable groin squashage when you stop. (potential ouch!)  

Then, if you find you sit between two frame sizes your “ape index” becomes important.  If it’s positive (big wings) go for the larger frame, if negative (short arms relative to height) go for the smaller frame.

Extremes of height

If you’re a hobbit, women’s specific road bikes are not only for women!  They are simply designed for a smaller frame with narrower shoulders and longer legs relative to shorter torso.  You can find the smallest frame size of 44cm in a few different manufacturers, but they are not universal.  If you’re a giant, you are fairly well catered for.

women’s specific bike – not in pink!


But if you are a narrow-shouldered extremely tall person or a broad-shouldered hobbit, and you have money to burn, you might want a custom build.  This is where you will find a bike shop with a fitting equipment (We recommend “Retul” as its an infinitely adjustable bike you actually sit on) to find the perfect geometry for you.  This means you might get less high spec. components/frame material within your budget, as you’re spending more on the custom build, but it may be worth your while to get ultimate comfort.

Invest to save

Finally, invest your time in finding the right bike size and then getting it fitted properly (saddle height etc. in the shop BEFORE you take it home) and it will repay you.  Big chain bike shops are only as good as their local staff, so if you decide to go to one don’t settle for any superficial fitting, go prepared with a few options and try before you buy.  Smaller shops tend to be run by bike enthusiasts and, by contrast, you may struggle to ever leave as you get engrossed in discussions about power output ratios……..!


Theory Thursday

Cold water adaptation as therapy

We’ve been thinking about open water swimming this week and last week, in terms of rare (very rare!) wetsuit perils and a few top tips.  But, there is more to it than that.  It’s actually good for you!

Cold water adaptation

Getting into cold water (20 degrees or less) is pretty shocking.  It causes physiological stress.  But if you keep doing it, your body gets the hang of it and tones down the stress response.  You adapt.  More and more evidence is accruing that this adaptation crosses over to down-regulate other types of stressful triggers.

You need to go in 3-4 times for this to happen.  You need to leave the wetsuit at home.  Officially, the swimming bit is unnecessary, it’s just the cold water immersion that does the trick – but where’s the fun in standing still!

Anticipatory thermogenesis

Believe it or not, you can upregulate your own core body temperature, without shivering.  Identified in many of the cold dwelling peoples of the world, including the Kaweskar of Tierra del Fuego at the bottom of Patagonia who didn’t wear clothes despite freezing temperatures.  They apparently had core body temperatures of 38 degrees C or higher (ours is usually 37).

Tierra del Fuego

There are some daft feeling visualisations you can do before getting into the water, (think of fire, think of heat) but they do seem to work.  Lewis Pugh – an antarctic swimmer was able to raise his body temperature this way, but just looking at his website makes me feel cold!

Advantages of adaptation

How does this translate into something meaningful for you?  Well, it might simply mean that regular cold water swimming gives you a “high” at the time.  (I certainly think the euphoria stopped me thinking clearly when my wetsuit was trying to kill me!)  Research is ongoing into whether it reduces coughs and colds but there is evidence for a reduction in the inflammatory response.

That would be nirvana.  “Inflammation” is implicated in the development of cancer, heart disease and more obvious conditions “inflammatory” bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.  Diabetes and mental health conditions are also on the list.  Various sufferers have anecdotally improved their conditions with cold water swimming.  Since there won’t be big pharma funding for it any time soon (imagine a world without all those diseases & the drugs needed to treat them, just by a dip in the sea now and then!!!) if you’ve got any of the above you’ve nothing to lose by trying a bit of cold water habituation.


An extra word about depression.  if you watched “the doctor who gave up drugs” you’ll have seen the patient who did, indeed, get off her antidepressants by cold water swimming.  It’s the cold that does it.  Swimming and any exercise help depression, but it’s the cold water adaptation down-regulating the stress response and the inflammatory response that work.  Interestingly, there is even some evidence that patients with depression have marginally increased core body temperatures – neat theory? 

So, although you may perish with cold at the thought of it, there are lots of sound reasons to go for a dip in the sea in winter – just don’t do it alone!  find out more: 

Theory Thursday

Swimming Induced Pulmonary Oedema

I said I’d tell you how my wetsuit tried to kill me.  It’s a cautionary tale, but one that shouldn’t stop you participating in open water swims – just learn from my inadvertent mistakes!

the offending article

A swimming journey

It started out like this

old lady swimming

I might look worried but I was cruising along in an open-air heated pool at the Beccles tri, head out of the water, cheerily completing a mere 16 lengths.  Then, the multi-tasker made me sign up to an open water swim.  I had to buy a wetsuit.  They are sold by weight; not height or hip circumference.  I should have smelled a rat at this stage!

Off we went to Fritton Lake to practice.  Lovely wetsuit kept me very warm.  Lovely wetsuit made me extraordinarily buoyant.  I splashed about and felt lovely swimming in a lake in the summer watching herons take off from the bank.  But by the end of the session I felt a bit wheezy and duly ignored it.  Next session, I wheezed early in and had to stop.  I noticed pollen floating on the surface of the water and in the breeze so I self-diagnosed hay fever.  Next session I was armed with nasal spray, antihistamine and asthma inhaler.  It was a dull day with soft summer rain and no pollen.  I didn’t wheeze.  Job done, I thought.  Fritton lake triathlon on a cool day – tick, done, no wheeze.  Norwich triathlon on another cool day – tick, done, no wheeze.

Then it was the Aldeburgh triathlon and a 1km “with tide” sea swim.  Luckily (as it turned out) it was a team event, so I only had to do the swim.  I inhalered, I antihistamined, I figured it was the sea so there wouldn’t be any pollen.  I had a big fat arrogant head and pride goes before a fall!

I cycled down to Aldeburgh as a warm up and also because I felt a bit cheated I wasn’t going to bike and run after my swim.  I hydrated after that.  I walked 500m down the beach “half-in” my wetsuit.  I gamely participated in my now fully-on wetsuit in the beachside warm-up which involved air-squats and other undignified things I normally only do in the privacy of the pain cave.

I launched myself into the sea on the gun and the tide, literally, ripped me down stream, I barely had to swim, just bob up & down & keep my head above water.  A man next to me turned onto his back signalling that he was clearly in trouble, I hailed the safety kayak for him & swam blithely on, feeling fatally smug.

At 500m I felt a ruttle in my lower trachea.  I’d had that before, stupidly, I think I started to swim faster.  I think my twisted logic was – get out of the water faster and the ruttle won’t progress to a wheeze and you can get to your inhaler faster.  It got worse.  It was a wheeze, a noisy angry wheeze.  A kindly kayaker paddled alongside me to the shore which I made in 14m:51s (I normally swim 1km in 30 minutes in the pool!)  I legged it up to transition ripping off my wetsuit and then realised I was really quite wheezy in a “you need a nebuliser” sort of a way.  Oh the joy of the St. John’s ambulance.  Oh the hilarious coincidence of finding one of my ex-students was head of the crew.  (at least she’d had good teaching…..)

After finding my oxygen levels were low enough to require supplemental oxygen administration and a nebuliser they listened to my chest again.  The wheeze had gone, unmasking the real problem – crackles signalling pulmonary oedema – or “fluid in the lungs”.

Obviously, I wasn’t going to go to hospital, being a smug fat-headed arrogant twit, so I just went off to enjoy the rest of the day.  I did consent (with some arm twisting) to a lift home rather than biking.  Then later I read these articles: 

Swimming Induced Pulmonary Oedema – raising awareness about this potentially life-threatening condition 

And I was a bit chastened – a too tight wetsuit, overhydrating and warming-up on the beach in the compressive wetsuit had all conspired to push fluid into my lungs.  There’s no treatment, just oxygen, get the wetsuit off and wait 24-48 hours for it to go away.  But I am amused & cheered by this little gem (although it’s not quite enough evidence for me to go out and buy those little blue pills……….)

Theory Thursday

Sleep and Stress Management

Good evening!  Hopefully you’ve got a blue filter, now, on your screen so you can read this without triggering wakefulness.  Apologies for the error in Tuesday’s blog (now corrected) – Melatonin (a Pineal gland hormone) helps sleep and blue light inhibits it, that’s why you need your blue light screen filter.

And why do you need sleep?  There is a body of evidence mounting that 6-9 hours a night is beneficial for your waistline – good quality zeds can help regulate your metabolism and your appetite and that, of course, is the nirvana we seek to stay healthy.

How to sleep well

There are a number of facets to sleeping well, and modern life mostly tries to override all of them!  Which makes it a perpetual challenge to get good “sleep hygiene”, even when you know what you ought to be doing:


You sleep better if you always go to bed & get up at the same time.  A weekend lie-in, as tempting or necessary as it feels, could set your sleep pattern off kilter.  There is mixed evidence about naps (20 mins or 90 mins refreshing you, but for the elderly who take naps there is an association with mortality – possibly because the cause of the naps is high pharmaceutical load signalling high morbidity), so it could be better to carry on setting your work alarm at the weekend and compensate with an afternoon power nap if you need to, but just set the alarm nice and late, but at a regular time every day, if you’re retired.


The ideal bedroom temperature is 18 degrees C, rather cooler than your living room at 21 degrees.  The body knows it ought to sleep as it cools so having a bath before bed which warms you in order to then cooldown afterwards can help, too.


We’ve mentioned melatonin.  We wake with blue light and melatonin gets triggered with sunset (warm light) & darkness to send us to sleep.  Modern life so overrides our natural rhythms, especially in winter that it helps to have the blue light filters at night that we mentioned and in the morning to have an alarm with a daylight-mimicking light to help wake us.


fruit & low fat yoghurt = carbs & tryptophan

We’ve been avoiding carbs, or being very selective about carbs, but they can help you sleep when consumed with protein due to helping sleep-inducing tryptophan (amino acid from the protein) become more available to the brain.  But pick your carbs wisely!  Some micronutrients help sleep, too – Potassium, Magnesium and Calcium – by calming restless muscles and promoting relaxation.  So banana with milk is good, as would be tuna and sweet potatoes for dinner.

How long should you eat before retiring to the land of nod?  The answer is, it depends what you eat.  Anything fatty will take a long time to digest (hours) but a lean protein/carb combo to get your tryptophan in can be taken right before bed.


Warm milky drinks – why do they work? See above re tryptophan

How long should you drink before bed?  As above, milk is pretty low in fat (even “full fat” is only 4%) so go for it.

Alcohol – see below


Caffeine is the enemy, of course.  How long should you be caffeine-free before bed?  Well, it depends!  The “half-life” of caffeine is 5-6 hours (of the 225mg caffeine in your starbucks cappucino ingested at 08.00, 112.5mg will still be circulating inside you at 14.00 and 56.25mg at 20.00 and 28.125mg at 02.00!).  Black tea has got approx. 30mg per tea bag, a small costa coffee latte has 92mg (their large mocha has a whopping 395mg!) and even coke “zero” has got 34mg.  (By the way, the lethal dose of caffeine is 18g).  Do your own maths, but I will try not have any caffeine after breakfast after working on this!

Alcohol is a great sedative.  It will get you off to sleep a treat, but when it wears off at 4 a.m. you feel terrible & terribly wakeful.

Stress Management

The other thief of sleep is stress.  We’re all psychologically stressed by modern life, but our body perceives this as requiring a fight or flight response and triggers cortisol (the counterpoint hormone to melatonin) which makes you wakeful, and prone to “early morning waking” at 4a.m.

Good stress management with yoga or meditation, Qi Gong or Tai Chi can mitigate this, according to a variety of evidence.  There are many types of meditation, but all involve clearing the mind of stray thoughts and concentrating on either the here and now/your breathing or a “mantra” (repeated word/phrase).  It’s actually rather challenging and requires practice, but you don’t have to go the whole hippy hog to benefit.  Try the 4-7-8 breathing cycle tonight (in 4s, hold 7s, out 8s) as you’re falling asleep and see if your tracker tells you that you dropped off more quickly.

Theory Thursday


Last week we talked about macros, this week it’s the turn of the little guy 🙂  Tiny but mighty, micronutrients are your vitamins and minerals.  They are mostly derived from your diet, with one critical exception – vitamin D, 90% of which you get from sunshine.

Should I take a multivitamin?

Many people believe they need extra vitamins and minerals in the form of pills. Lots of money is made from this free floating belief that we can’t get the correct amounts from our food, and the idea that if we just had a “tonic” we would feel “better”

Talk about “first world problems”.  We are overnourished not undernourished, that’s why we’re here.  Where there are food shortages and famine vitamin deficiencies are real and serious.  Our foods are fortified, plentiful and full of vitamins and minerals to give us what we need.

The only reason you would need a multivitamin is if your nutrition plan includes full days of fasting or you are doing “the milk diet”.

How do I get all my vitamins and minerals?

Simple.  Eat a rainbow.  (and exercise outdoors).

Well, obviously, not an actual rainbow.  Get enough variety in your daily food intake to include all the colours of the rainbow.  Why?  Because then you will get all the vitamins and minerals you need:



There are some exceptions.  

Vegans and B12

Vegans don’t eat meat, eggs or dairy so they miss out completely on B12 and should take a supplement of this.  

Vitamin D

You can only get 10% of your vitamin D needs from your food (even if you are a sardine addict).  90% of your supply comes from the sun.  In the UK, the sun is only high enough in the sky and strong enough between April and September to make vitamin D in your skin and you need 15 minutes exposure to face and hands per day during that time to store up enough to last you through the winter. As a general rule in the UK, the likelihood of us getting this amount is well known scientifically to be 0%.  Therefore, Superheroes do recommend a vitamin D supplement from when the clocks go back to when they go forwards.  If you are training really hard, there is some evidence your vitamin D levels drop, too, so you may even want to take your vitamin D supplement all year.  400-800iu daily is the recommended amount, with some studies suggesting taking 1000iu.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

You need extra folic acid and vitamin D.  Check out NHS choices if you need more advice.

Absorption and storage

And finally, a word about whether eating the stuff equates to benefitting from the contents.  Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble.  There is some thought that eating fat with your vitamin A or K source (spinach and carrots) will help you absorb it – which I take as licence to add some lovely olive oil to my salad dressing.  But the main issue is that you can actually “overdose” on these vitamins as they get stored in your adipose tissue.  Too much liver (which contains vitamin A) can be toxic and is not advised at all to be eaten by pregnant women.  Vitamins B and C are water soluble and will happily be peed out if you eat too much, but equally if you overboil your vegetables you can lose some of the nutrients.  A good excuse for eating chips once a week is to get the vitamin C from the potatoes, which would otherwise boil away 🙂

Iron needs vitamin C to be absorbed properly, so vegetarians and vegans who miss out on the iron bonanza in meat and tuna should consider eating, for instance, their lentil dhal with sag aloo (spinach and lentils are good sources of iron) alongside an orange or glass of lemon water.  Iron can easily be “chelated” (get stuck to) other things and also not be absorbed so avoid drinking a cup of tea and eating wholemeal bread with your source of iron.

Calcium needs vitamin D to get into bone and do its work but vitamins C, E and K along with Magnesium and Boron minerals help, too.  

So all this is why eating the rainbow at every meal – getting variety, flavour and pleasure into your real food will actually help you take in, absorb and utilise the maximum vitamins and minerals you need, without having to spend money in the “health aisle”!


Theory Thursday 


This theory Thursday we’re looking more closely at diet (as in what you eat, not as in lettuce leaves).  It’s time to dive into the wonderful world of macros, or macronutrients. (Micronutrients are next week, we’re not prejudiced against smallness!)

Macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fat.  They are the building blocks and calorie containing bits of your dietary intake:  

macronutrients charts

The reason we are looking at this is because manipulating the ratio of macros in your diet can have extraordinary effects on your body composition – weight, fat and muscle percentage.  There is no “rule” for the ratio, except you need 12% of your calories from protein and 10% from fat in the diet to avoid protein-calorie malnutrition (Kwashiorkor). (That would leave 78% of your cals from carbohydrate!)  

You have read here about manipulating carbohydrates – the Atkins diet (don’t) and the blood sugar diet (do) and the LCHF diet (maybe) reduce carbs with an increase in fats to reduce body fat very successfully.  But you could go further.  You could adjust each macro depending on what you want to achieve at any given time.  

Looking at macros has been the province of body builders with a dietary strategy called “if it fits your macros“.  But you don’t have to be building Arnie’s biceps to benefit.  Protein, carbs and fat are not inherently more or less healthy in themselves than each other.

You could also increase protein which promotes satiety and weight loss according to many studies.  (and consequently reduce the percentage of refined carbohydrate, which just makes you more hungry!)

So I don’t need to exercise to lose weight?

No, you don’t.  “6-packs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym” is true. However, we absolutely want you to move more.  We want you to get your 10,000 steps a day and do two strength workouts a week as a minimum.  But this is because you will create a healthy, mobile, muscular frame to last you into a mobile old age. Plus, endorphins 😀😜.  Plus, reduced cancer, dementia, diabetes etc etc etc.  

Also there is increased insulin sensitivity with exercise, so if you DO want to eat carbohydrates without weight gain, exercise is the way forwards.

What should I do?

There is no one true answer.  There are a lot of conflicting studies and opinions out there in the world of science.  Where positivism has given way to post-positivism and a bit of constructionism.  But this is because it’s not as simple as your three macros and their calorie content and insulin effect.  There’s the body they go into – one with high insulin resistance (large waist) will process each macro differently to the lean person, to the “skinny fat” person who eats a busload of fruit and has fatty liver.  Also, there is fibre and there are other hormones  and factors at work and the body is a whole complex machine in a constant tug of war for “balance” (homeostasis).  And also, the microbiome!  Read Giulia Enders wondrous book about that, but we are only just beginning to understand that our gut flora functions as another organ and is possibly even part of our neuroanatomy.

So what should you do? Whatever works for you, what you can sustain (for at least two years to have a chance of keeping the weight off) and what fits most easily into your current lifestyle.  Increasing protein, decreasing “junk” carbs and eating more vegetables are on the list, exercise is on the list.  The rest, the fine detail, is up to you.

Theory Thursday

Myth-Busting (part 2)

Myth #5 – Gluten-free products are “healthy”

If you’ve got coeliac disease, then you MUST eat gluten-free.  So gluten-free products are healthier for you than gluten containing!  But the NHS no longer gives prescriptions for gluten-free products because it was effectively providing free biscuits – not quite the image of the NHS we want!

nasty biscuits covered in 100s & 1000s
look away!

If you haven’t got coeliac disease there is NO health benefit in avoiding gluten and replacing it with “products” designed to make the producer wealthy.  If you have IBS you may have found, through the low FODMAP diet, that avoiding wheat improves your symptoms.  But it is quite easy to eat REAL food without wheat and still get a fully balanced diet.  There are lots of websites and blogs out there to help you.

If you think gluten-free products will help with weight maintenance please be disabused of this myth now.  This is what is in one supermarket’s version of  “gluten-free bread”:


Water , Tapioca Starch , Rice Flour , Potato Starch , Sunflower Oil , Sunflower Seeds (4.0%) , Linseed (3.0%) , Yeast , Humectant (Glycerol) , Millet (2.0%) , Black Treacle , Stabiliser (Hydroxypropyl Methyl Cellulose) , Dried Egg White , Poppy Seeds (1.0%) , Psyllium Husk Powder , Maize Flour , Salt , Maize Starch , Rice Starch , Preservative (Calcium Propionate) , Caramelised Sugar .

You will know that ingredients are listed in order of predominance by weight. Which means you are mostly eating water! (I suppose that’s not unhealthy)  but the rest of it makes me feel a bit nauseated……

Myth #6 – You must have breakfast

Oh dear.  It’s come to this.  I am the world’s biggest fan of breakfast, and also second breakfast.  Bacon and scrambled eggs, smoked haddock and poached eggs, ham and mushroom omelette, blueberries and yoghurt, salmon, egg and avocado, spinach-egg-tomato, apple and nuts, even the odd quinoa-chia seed-almond milk “bircher muesli” – I love it all.  I’m never going to say you mustn’t have it.  But I am *bites lip, holds breath* going to say you don’t NEED it.

If you work very long hours, you might be having breakfast at 6 a.m. and eating your evening meal at 9 p.m. with lunch at 1 p.m. This long extended eating period is only going to encourage you to snack – by 11.30 a.m. you might be feeling peckish (although egg for breakfast might diminish that) and by 4 p.m. the biscuits in the tea room are extraordinarily appealing.

But there is a lot of evidence around intermittent fasting for weight control and one of the (many) regimes is keeping your “eating window” to an 8 hour period, with a 16 hour “fast” every day.  That means you get up, have black/green/mint tea or black coffee or water then just eat “lunch” & dinner within an 8 hour period.  If you are exercising, there may well be benefits to doing that when fasted, but caffeinated.  To manage your appetite just drink plenty of calorie-free (NON-“diet”) drinks.

You could always still have breakfast & second breakfast & then fast………

(by the way – this does NOT apply to children)

Myth #7 – You mustn’t miss meals

On the back of suddenly being “allowed” to miss breakfast, adults are also “allowed” to miss meals.  We don’t need “three square meals” a day, and if you are sedentary then three square meals a day plus snacks is probably what’s making you fat.  Every time you eat your body has to squirt out some insulin and manage the glucose your body has saved from what you’ve eaten.  Insulin is very good at driving glucose into tissues for fuel (and the excess turns into fat), but it’s equally good at SUPPRESSING fat burning.  Constant grazing means constant insulin sloshing about and eventually insulin resistance and you’re stuck.

Intermittent fasting – or “missing meals” – can help by giving your body times when there is no insulin, so it has to find other ways of fuelling.  Dr. Jason Fung is probably the expert on fasting – and he is not a snake-oil salesman but a diabetes specialist.  You can read more if it sparks your interest on his amazing website.

Even if you exercise, you can do this fasted.  But if you exercise, you might find you don’t have to! (word of caution – if you ARE diabetic and on medication you shouldn’t fast without a reliable health professional’s advice)

Myth #8 – Eat as much fruit as you like

OHHHHH *sad face* I like to eat a lot of fruit.  I like fruit for breakfast, fruit and nuts after exercise, fruit after dinner and fruit with lunch.  It’s possible I am not a hobbit, but a fruit-bat.

When “get your 5-a-day” advice came out I was a happy hobbit and when the maxim that “probably eat 8-10 pieces of fruit/veg. a day would be even better” came out I was ecstatic.  But whilst it’s nice advice the evidence is circumstantial.

You can certainly eat 10 portions of veg a day (as long as its veg, not a fruit masquerading as a veg!), but “fruit is nature’s candy“.  The main problem is fructose (“fruit sugar”)  which cannot be utilised by the body as fuel.  The liver decides the best thing to do with it is turn it into fat.

What to do!?  Well, berries aren’t too bad and check out this handy guide for your options.  It’s berries for breakfast and maybe one other piece of fruit a day and for the rest of your 5-a-day make it vegetables.

Theory Thursday 

Myth-busting (part 1)

Myth #1 – “You are what you eat”

Poetically “you are what you eat” is a great concept:  

Eat chips every day > body composition = mostly lard = look like the Pilsbury doughboy.  

But in fact, it’s not as simple as “eating fat makes you fat”.  Science and medicine have been down the white rabbit hole of eat fat, get fat, get high cholesterol, get furred up arteries and die young for years.  It’s true that furred up arteries are bad for your chances of longevity.  It’s true there is an association with high cholesterol.  It’s not true, though, that eating fat causes high cholesterol, and, to myth-bust further, there are more types of cholesterol than just bad, or even than good and bad! (Which we commonly measure).  We won’t explore statins here, this isn’t a medical site, this is about lifestyle changes you can make to live a long, healthy, happy, medication-free-as-long-as-possible life. You might prefer the chemicals!  But if not, read on…..

Our bodies are very sophisticated machines.  We eat plants and animals (and chemicals!) which are complex molecules and our digestive system breaks them down into useable components.  It absorbs the ones it needs for fuel and building materials and discards the rest as waste.  Unfortunately, for modern 1st world humans, our bodies still see excess fuel as a storage opportunity against times of famine.  So the reality is (& I quote)
“You are what you save from what you eat”

If you eat fat (good fat, ideally & without “bad carbs” – the refined white ones) your body utilises it to help get fat soluble vitamins into your body, to run various cellular activities and possibly as fuel.  If you eat “bad carbs” (cakes, biscuits, pies etc.), your body can use them as fuel or store them as fat – in the liver, around your organs, around your midriff – your body is saving “fat” from your carbohydrate intake (unless you run it off!), NOT your fat intake!

Myth #2 – “target your abs with THESE exercises”

Argh!  Apart from nauseating pictures of smug people with “6-packs” “targeting” this area of the body with specific exercise to make it “look better” is toot.  You can do all the sit-ups you like but you’ll probably still have a weak “core” if you don’t do all round core exercises (try yoga planking variations instead) and that 6-pack will still be covered in lard if you don’t also “eat smart”.  So there is a “myth” I like

6-pack abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym

If you want to shed body fat, go on the LCHF diet and do a bit of intermittent fasting.  (So, 6-pack abs are actually made by avoiding the kitchen altogether!!)  If you want to exercise specifically for this goal, H.I.I.T. (where your HR goes WAYYYYYYY over your “fat-burning” zone), will augment your efforts.

Myth #3 – “red wine is good for you/badforyou/goodforyou”

We’ve been on a rollercoaster with this one.  Clearly scientists have been having a high old time drinking enough red wine to determine what’s going on.  There was the theory (when “you are what you eat” cholesterol consumption = bad was the rage) that the French didn’t get heart disease because of the red wine.  That red wine is “cardioprotective”.  In fact, it’s probably more likely to be because the French are not afraid of fat!  But that’s another story.  Then, for a while, red wine wasn’t quite so good for you because, of course, calories + sugar.  But now, up to 2 glasses (250ml total) has been shown to decrease insulin resistance.  This is counterintuitive, but frankly, I am happy to buy into this potential myth and I can tell you the superbad multitasker is bathing in it & the hobbitly olds are feeling a teeny bit smug right now!

Myth #4 – “you need a “detox” now and then”

just one clementine

OH my goodness! My favourite myth.  I’m tempted to just say, it’s rubbish, so just don’t! And leave it there.  If “toxins” are building up in your body, someone is poisoning you with arsenic.  Otherwise, rely on your amazing liver and kidneys to do their job.  Don’t detox, just don’t eat & drink so much crap that makes your liver work hard and be a bit miserable in the first place.  Which means – NO SUGAR!  (Did we mention that before at all….?)  The worst thing is what people are told to detox with – juice!  liquid fructose = pure sugar (that is not used as fuel but just processed into liver fat).  You may as well slurp up golden syrup for three days.  You will feel absolutely terrible as your blood sugar cannons about recklessly all over the shop .  Yes, I give you the vitamins, but if you eat properly in the first place what’s the difference?  Also, no fibre, which apart from causing constipation can raise your cholesterol – one of things you thought you were avoiding!

Enough ranting?  Just carry on “eating smart” and if you accidentally trip up and 80% good days: 20% bad days flips over to 80% “cheat” days then you would be better off doing an up to 3 day total fast to “reset your metabolism” (also a myth but a useful phrase……sorry)