Theory Thursday

Are you a scientist?  A realist? Do you not believe the hype? Do you shiver at the Internet claims of the cabbage soup diet, the egg and grapefruit diet and the meal replacement diets?

picture of a golden egg

Do you long for some real evidence which you find relevant to your health aims?  Well, we’ll try to bring it to you here.  Even if you normally hate science, keep reading.  We’ll also try to translate it into plain English that makes the penny drop.  Then you can understand the best current health science.  Some of it is quite surprising and counter intuitive!  But it works – we know, we tried it.

Basal metabolic rate – BMR

Our bodies are amazing 24 hour machines, they burn calories just doing nothing.  Your basal metabolic rate or BMR is the number of calories you burn per 24 hours if at rest.  What is doing the burning when you’re just resting?  Well, your gut is quietly working pretty hard – extracting nutrients from your food, peristalsing (moving poo downstream).  Your brain is buzzing, repairs are being microscopically carried out all over the place, your eyelids are blinking.  Your bone is remodelling, your muscles are using some energy – amongst a host of other calorie burning functions. 


Modify the burn

You can imagine, then, that a number of things affect the number of calories you burn at rest:

1 – current weight – if there is more of you, there are more cells burning calories hence your BMR will be higher.

2 – current age – the younger you are the higher your BMR.  There are various reasons for this, but one is higher muscle mass.  Peak bone and muscle mass occurs aged 34 so if you’re young and you’re reading this – get building up to your peak now!  If you’re old – don’t despair, you can build some back up again!

3 – sex – men have a higher BMR to women, usually due to their higher percentage of muscle.


Calorie deficit

What does this mean?  Well, in order to lose 1lb of fat per week you need to be in a calorie deficit of 3500kCals, or 500kCals per day.  Very simply, if you have a BMR of 1500kCal and you currently consume 2000kCal a day then a 1500kCal nutrition plan alone might achieve your weight loss aims.  But that isn’t very satisfactory, as you will find if you have tried to do it.  Because as you lose weight (and get older) your BMR will drop and your muscle mass will probably drop and you will end up chasing your tail.  And it is VERY IMPORTANT to stick to no less than 1200kCal/day (unless on a short term very low calorie diet) to avoid malnutrition.

You can’t do anything to stop yourself aging or change your sex (****) but you can modify 3 factors to achieve your weight goal much more healthily and sustainably and create a calorie deficit:

1 – Take in less calories – nutrition plan


2 – Burn more calories – activity plan


3 – build muscle – strength training plan

If you exercise and strength train as well as eating right, not only can you eat more, you will gain muscle.  Although your BMR will drop with weight loss you will find it much easier to maintain.

Lessons learned

I had a very painful lesson to learn about my own BMR.  I had never looked at what it really meant to be so short in terms of my BMR.  I just ate what everyone else ate.  Working out my basal metabolic rate was absolutely sobering.  At 143.2 cm tall I will gain weight if I eat more than 1150 kCal/day (if inactive).  Putting that into context, look at a typically modest English diet:


cup of tea, 2 slices of toast with butter and marmite = 214 kCal,


ploughmans sandwich, pack of crisps, orange juice  = 685 kCal. 


shepherds pie and vegetables, glass of red wine – 528 kCal

total =1427 kCal

(and imagine I might not stop at one glass of wine, I might have pudding, I might have a “snack” – all adding to the calorie count)

As above, if every 3500kCal over your metabolic usage is a pound of weight gained, finally I understood that I would gain 1/2 lb per week and be 133kg (wider than tall!) by the age of 50 if I didn’t do something.  I couldn’t just diet and eat 1150kCal a day – anything less than 1200kCal can lead to malnutrition.  I had to exercise.  Not only that, but I had to build muscle – later on a “theory Thursday” we’ll talk about sarcopenia, but every year past the age of 30 we lose muscle mass (which is metabolically active) and hence our BMR drops and drops every year, so if I didn’t improve my BMR I would be eating less and less each year until I figured my daily caloric intake to avoid weight gain would probably amount to a single peanut!



I like peanuts, but that was not a future I relished. 

“Eat smart, move more, build muscle”

So, now you know why you’ve been getting fatter as you age even though you may not have been eating more.  Be honest and acknowledge the degree to which your sedentary lifestyle is making you lose muscle and raising the risk of weight gain.  Have a look at total lifestyle change – a nutrition and activity plan with strength training that puts you into 500kCal deficit per day (or 3500kCal deficit averaged over a week) until you reach your goal weight:


****artistic licence – in fact you can change your sex

Tech Tuesday

Tech Tuesday is here to satisfy your inner geek (or outer geek – superheroes are, by and large, geek-tastic). 


Do you love “gear”?  Would you drool over the latest bit of health “kit” to hit the Internet? Do you love to read a good kit review before making your purchase?  Do you pore over your stats?  Have you opened a spreadsheet to track your progress?  If the answer is


Then join us here every Tuesday and get your weekly fix.  On the other hand, we have given gear its own day because it has the potential to seriously damage your bank balance.  Step away from here if you are on a budget!

Tapes and scales

This week, at the beginning of the weight loss journey we need to know our baseline measurements.  Not all gear has to be high tech:


Find a tape measure and measure yourself – especially waist and hips.  Write it down.  Monitor it.  You will get reward from seeing the numbers drop well before the number on the scale drops.

But, if you’re serious about this and you want to lose weight healthily, you want some other parameters as well as weight and inches.  You want “Smart scales”.

Smart Scales

If you’re starting your weight loss journey, guessing your weight or using an old pair of scales that have only an approximate relationship with reality is not going to keep you on target.  Smart scales tell you weight, BMI, hydration status, muscle mass, bone mass and fat percentage.  If you are information avid you will want this! 

That’s because you don’t want to end up “skinny fat”.  If you just diet you could end up losing some fat, but some muscle as well and if you’re a woman that will lead to bone loss and shrinking and getting bent over with a high risk of fractures as you age (more on this in a theory Thursday coming soon).  If you’re a man, you might be the right weight, but if you have a high body fat percentage you’ll be storing it round your organs risking heart disease and strokes.

Body fat percentage

If you follow a nutrition AND activity plan, however, you can watch not only your weight and BMI reducing, but your muscle and bone mass increasing whilst your body fat percentage goes down:


Don’t get hung up on the actual number – it’s not hugely accurate, even with modern smart scales – but instead look for the percentage DROP in body fat as you progress towards your health goals.

I used garmin smart scales because I have a garmin smart watch (tech Tuesday about  wearable tech and fitness trackers coming soon!) and I love their sleek blackness, the fact I can also keep tabs on my husband (poor man!) and their accuracy.


Other smart scales are available, though – which you choose should probably link to the app you prefer to use and your fitness wearable so keep reading tech tuesdays before you shell out any money as we’ll cover those areas soon!

Whatever you do, keep it honest, log it and use it to help you understand what you need to do to achieve your goal.

Motivation Monday


 fat >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>podium

So many people asked me how I did it, how I lost weight, and usually at inopportune moments that my stock answer was


Concise, factually accurate, but I suspect hugely unhelpful.  (Although, you may be the one who just follows the livestrong white rabbit to Nicky Holender , finds the wonderland of “stronger” videos and never needs to return here).

Signposting is great if you are already motivated and self-efficacious, but since I used to be neither here is the unvarnished truth:

1st January 2015


Weight 61kg height 143.2cm (no, it’s not a typo)

BMI 29.9999

Alcohol 0 (amount of alcohol in blood from night before – off scale)

Husbands who cook food containing wine & cream 1

New Years resolutions – achieve normal body mass index (BMI)****

For years, 12 years, I had failed to be a consistent exerciser and for 6 years I hadn’t done any proper exercise at all.  I ate what I wanted and drank what I wanted (I wanted!) and as a result at the end of each year I was inexorably a few pounds heavier, a dress size bigger and I felt uncomfortable, discomfited and miserable every winter.  I felt a sense of inevitability that I would just get fatter, that my lifestyle was fixed, that there was no room for change.  I hadn’t weighed myself for ages – denial is powerful and we’ll reflect on that on Friday.  What finally jolted me out of complacency wasn’t the money I was spending on enormous clothing items, it was finally stepping on the scales, working out my BMI and being ashamed at the fag paper that stood between me and obesity. 


Personality and planning

My personality is ISFJ (click here for an absorbing way to work out yours and what it means).  Knowing that was helpful to target how I would best achieve my weight loss goal.  Next Monday, Meg (who is ENFP) will share her journey to motivate those of you in the “E-P” camp.  But I know that “I-J” personalities love a plan


They want to work things through quietly in their heads and act when they’re ready.  So, rather than leaping in and trying the latest fad diet, I started reading.  I started to work out why I was stuck in a rut and what I could do differently.  Thank goodness for Pinterest – maybe it will have saved my life!  Through “health and fitness boards I was able to read all the latest research and find loads of great (free!!) fitness resources so I could plan my attack. 


Two major revelations about calories and exercise came out of my research. Firstly, with my fitness pal I worked out my basal metabolic rate (we’ll talk in depth about BMR on Thursday) and my goal weight (50kg) and hence my ideal daily calorie intake. 


It was shockingly low and miles away from 2000kCal “they” say the “average woman” needs.  I had clearly been kidding myself – being 4’8″ tall is not average!  Secondly, hours of steady state cardio in the gym at “fat burning heart rate” were no longer hot exercise tips.  30 minutes of activity a day with one rest day per week  was the way forwards.  Within that, 2 workouts should be “strength” i.e. weights and  1-2 should incorporate H.I.I.T. (High intensity interval training).  Suddenly, I realised I could find time in my day for 30 minutes at home, where going to a gym before or after work with all the associated palaver was never going to happen.


So I bought myself some home gym kit to last forever which cost less than a year’s wasted gym membership would have (cross trainer, Dumbbells, resistance band and ball  – if you’ve got the money upfront).  But I didn’t lose much weight – I was eating better and drinking less, I was working out 30 minutes a day (mostly) using a variety of resources I’d found, but in 3 months I had lost the sum total of 2.2lbs.  (Ideal rate of loss is 1-2lb per week).  This was frustrating and I wondered what I was doing wrong.  I started to log my progress and found:

1st March 2015

Weight 60kg

Alcohol – still drinking

Husbands standing for parliament 1

Resolutions – change of tack needed for weight loss

It turns out I was doing it right, I had just underestimated the time it would take and the path it would follow.   The weight loss depended on finally kick starting my metabolism to behave differently and it only did that after the 3 months preparatory work and when I then flirted with Michael Mosley’s 5:2 intermittent fasting plan for 2 weeks which did shift 2kg:

16th March 2015

Weight 58kg

Alcohol – not on fast days

Misery – high. 5:2 was not for me!

I then decided to stop grazing on different ideas from the smorgasbord of fitness resources out there and commit to livestrong “stronger”.  An 8 week FREE total fitness plan needing no equipment, I followed it to the letter (TO THE LETTER  no kidding myself, no cheat days like before, no alcohol) and I finally started to lose weight.  I fell in love with Nicky Holender and I didn’t feel nauseated by the Americanisms.

It worked: a simple calorie tracker app which I filled in assiduously and 6 x 30 minute workouts a week with a rest day.  4 weeks at beginner level, 4 weeks at the next level up.   The workouts are hard and they make you sweat.  Unsurprisingly, this is what makes them effective!!  But my goodness they make you smile, too – usually due to the hilarity of what you must look like in action. (enough reason to do this  in the privacy of your own home….)

Suddenly the weight was going.  And it kept going.

22nd May 2015


(finish livestrong stronger 8 week plan)

Weight 51kg BMI 25.5

alcohol – rare

Husbands who now cook healthy food 1

Resolutions – maintain healthy weight

Suddenly, a perfect rate of weight loss.  I kept up the calorie monitoring and exercise to finally achieve my goal of 50kg on 18.06.2015 (nearly 7 months later – I want to stress how long it took!). 

In a couple of weeks I’ll be back to talk about how I then maintained the weight loss, meanwhile, I hope this gives you some ideas to bring you one step closer to starting your own journey.


**** with thanks, an affectionate homage to Bridget Jones


New Year’s Resolution



happy new year fireworks

Are you ready to be a superhero?  You probably don’t feel like one, after last night…….. 


New Year’s Resolution

But this year, 2017, you’ve made a new year’s resolution to be healthier – get active, lose weight, ditch the bad habit/s.  You’ve been here before – empty promises when you didn’t really want it, missed opportunities because you weren’t ready for change, failed efforts because you fizzled out in February – well February is the sort of month that will do that to you.  We’ve been there too.

This year, it could be different and we’re here to help you, and in turn you’ll help us.  We’re East Anglian triathletes bidding to upgrade to superhero status and take on the Norfolk superheroes quadrathlon.  Disclaimer: we have absolutely no relevant qualifications**** to advise you, but we have been there and got a few t-shirts and medals on the way. 

beccles-medical-centre-triathletes-websize training-runtourdebroads2016

Quadrathlon training

We start a (gruelling – they’re always gruelling!) training schedule tomorrow for 6 months leading up to the quadrathlon.  You’re there to keep us on track – we promise to post our “sports on Sunday” weekly training report so you can follow our progress, have a good laugh at our expense and generally feel our pain.  We’re here to help you achieve your transformation to healthy hero, too.  Because this is not our starting point – in 2015 Jools was a fat, inactive glutton and Meg was a “skinny fat” whirlwind with unhealthy imbibing habits.  You can read about how we got from the couch of sloth and the wine vat of sin to successfully competing in 6 triathlons in 2016 in the other blogs we will post each week.  They will cover motivation (Monday), tech (Tuesday), theory (Thursday) and a bit of quiet reflection on a Friday.

Plan to be a healthy hero

Before you start, you need a plan.  “Being fit” “being healthy” “being thinner” are not destinations, they are just relative to now, so they will always be ahead of you no matter how fit, healthy or thin you get.  So first of all set out the end of the line.  Where are the buffers? How will you know when you’ve hit them?  Would you be fit if you could do a sprint triathlon in the summer? Would you be fit if you could walk 3 miles without stopping by the end of March?  Would you be healthy if you stopped smoking, drank within the recommended limits or stuck to a “less than 5% sugar” nutrition regime?  Would you be thin if you dropped 3 dress sizes?  We won’t tell you what to do, but we’ll provide you with the tools you need to do it.

Be Smart

Start by making your goal S.M.A.R.T 


and get ready to work hard to achieve it – we’re right behind you and we’d love to hear about your progress in the comments.  Maybe you’ll be guest blogging your own journey to healthy hero here soon…….


**** (although Jools has cycling proficiency)