Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

On the outside it’s a simple question.

Do you have ‘It’

‘It’ is the magic ingredient that separates those few people from the overwhelmingly large number of people who don’t have ‘it’.

Now what specifically is ‘it’!? ‘It’ isn’t something that only a few people can have, it’s something that everybody on this planet can attain. ‘It’ is a group of behaviours, it is a pattern of actions that lead to a desired goal. Let me give you a few examples of the sorts of behaviour that those who have ‘it’ exhibit (all names are fictional tho most of the stories below are examples of what I have personally seen in clients).

Dan has a tough week ahead, he will be working 12 hour days 7:30-7:30pm plus some evenings in preparation for an important presentation to present to the management team at work next week. Instead of cancelling his training with his training partner or PT he organises to finish work at 7:30, down a protein shake and head to the gym. He trains hard for an hour before getting home at 9:30, eating a quick dinner, prepares meals for the following day before completing an extra hour of work before bed. He then rinses and repeats this day for the rest of the week. There was never any question about making it in for his workouts or making the time to prepare his meals for the following day. He knows that hard graft builds the body and that his food is what fuels his fat loss.

Jodie has a lot of friend’s birthday’s coming up where she will be going out a lot. Instead of conforming and drinking and eating whatever sounds delicious, she decides to drive and carefully select her meals at the restaurants. She is ridiculed by her friends for being ‘obsessed’ or stupid for opting for the salad rather than going for the pizza and chocolate fudge cake for afters.  She doesn’t need to make excuses to them because she knows that to her, her goals are more important to her than conformity to social eating and drinking habits. She knows that the term ‘obsessed’ is a term used by the weak about the dedicated. She’s paving her own route and still having a great time with her friends because she knows that she doesn’t need cake or wine to be happy. Besides she has a workout planned for tomorrow that she wants to be fresh for.

Gerard comes into the gym fresh after a few days rest looking forward to another absolute monster of a session. He leaves an hour or so later, legs shaking and has to pace the car park as his legs just won’t stop burning from the hell he’s just endured.  He paces with a grin on his face, sweat still running down from his forehead.  A year ago he was a lazy, overweight dude that had run out of excuses and was heading to a place called metabolic syndrome where the lucky residents there have a cocktail of high blood pressure, high triglycerides and cholesterol and a very high chance of cardiac disease. Now he’s in the shape of his life still coming back to the gym for more each time, still hungry to erase the memory of who he used to be. He could have given up after his trainer initially told him to cut down on alcohol, to drop a large percentage of his carbohydrates or even when he said he wouldn’t necessarily reach his long term goals for some time.

This last example is one that a very dedicated client gave me before Christmas;

 We all know that Christmas is a time when socialising tends to take precedence above most other things.  So when one of my clients was asked by a work colleague to bum off work early to get a few drinks in before the work’s Christmas party my client replied with

“sorry mate I have a PT session this evening.”

The work colleague came back with;

“Nah, sack that off and come to the pub.  Besides you can always go tomorrow.”

Finally my client silenced his work colleague with;

“It was taking the attitude of doing things tomorrow that got me fat and unhealthy in the first place.  I’m not going to miss my session”

That is a true example of the magic ingredient ‘it’.

‘It” is simply the actions the above example people chose to make in situations that weren’t always easy.  The toughest route is usually the path less travelled on.  It usually reaps the largest rewards but takes the most amount of effort.  Individuals with ‘it’ don’t choose the easy option on the restaurant menu, they choose the option that best suits their goals. They might at that time prefer the burger with chips but they know for a fact that it won’t help them reach their goals so why the hell should they consider it. Hell yeah we only live once and we should enjoy it, but if you are desperately miserable because you can’t eat a burger or an ice cream when you go out because you have fitness or health goals, I would suggest you take a look at your relationship with food.  If giving up that makes you miserable then maybe you aren’t in a position to tell your ‘obsessed’ friend that they need to enjoy themselves. There is more to life than food.

People with ‘it’ don’t make excuses for not making a workout, they make time for it. 

People with ‘it’ make time to prepare their meals for the week, they don’t hide behind the excuse of not having time. They make time.

People with ‘it’ don’t give up when they reach a plateau. They find a way around it or through it because they don’t have the quitting attitude.

People with ‘it’ go to bed early because they know that the extra sleep will help them with their body composition or athletic goals.

People with ‘it’ aim to inspire the people around them, their girlfriends, boyfriends, parents, sons, daughters etc to do better for themselves. 

People with ‘it’ don’t say that they’ll start such and such ‘tomorrow’ or they’ll drop X or Y from their diet in a month or two. They do it. However if they do phase in a behaviour or nutritional change, they plan for it and do it.

People with ‘it’ don’t hide behind excuses of any kind. If they don’t achieve their goals they understand that it is their actions that define whether they achieve them or not. They are responsible for their actions and if they have slipped up or if life has got in the way, they are the people who hold their hands up and admit their mistakes but they are also the people who will jump right back on track and work double hard to undo any lost progress.

If you are reading the above examples and see some of your own actions listed, then you probably have ‘it’. If however you are reading them and do not see any behaviours common with your own then perhaps you haven’t quite found ‘it’ yet.  That doesn’t mean you won’t ever do what it takes, it just means that at this present time you aren’t ready to.  Which is ok, most of the people that I have worked with or trained didn’t always have ‘it’, most of them stumbled across it and once bitten by the rewards of positive actions for themselves, were bitten for life. 

It’s not all as Hollywood as one might imagine. The guy in the example above pacing the car park wasn’t doing a victory dance because he had worked super hard in his training. He was pacing the car park because his legs hurt and sitting down in the car was painful.  Not every workout was like that for him, but that is just a metaphor to show you what some people are willing to do to reach their goals. The girl mentioned above who was mocked by her friends for not drinking or eating the sugar loaded foods that the rest of her friends did of course have doubts.  Yes she felt unsupported and a little hurt that her friends thought she was being silly, but she persevered because she wanted to reach her goals badly.

To finish I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite quotes regarding people who have that magic ingredient, who are prepared to lead from the front and do whatever it takes.

“Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful” – Eric Thomas

Basically, if you want something bad enough, you’ll do what it takes.  You won’t make excuses and you will allow your actions to speak for themselves.

So ask yourself, do you have ‘it’?



Fat loss is one of the holy grails of personal trainers, coaches, nutritionists, chefs and almost anyone who plans to head to the beach at some point in their life.  Yes it’s shallow to suggest that we all want to look lean and muscular and less squishy around the edges but for everyone there is a glimmer of truth in it.  Behavioural psychologists would tell us that it is natural for us to want to look our best or better than others from a procreation standpoint.  Much like how the male peacock displays it’s amazing feathers to impress the lady peacocks, psychologists would say we humans are instinctively wired to be shallow to a degree.  But lets not get stuck into the psychology of why people strive for fat loss, lets just look at how you can achieve it.  There are a million different ways to lose fat, literally there are thousands of different nutritional or fasting protocols, diets, exercise regimes and hypnotherapy sessions that you can attend to achieve your goals but here are my 6 transitions towards fat loss that I have seen work time and time again. 


I kinda stole this idea from my favourite fitness writer Coach Dan John (found at ) as he cites this as the number one most important factor towards reaching any of your goals.  Simply do something, just turn up.  This doesn’t exclusively mean make sure you turn up for every single gym session, it means that if you start doing something it is way better than doing nothing.  Preparing your meals the night before and being prepared for the day is turning up.  Deciding not to eat that cake that is offered to you is turning up.  Going to the gym even though you are tired is turning up.  It comes in all shapes, sizes and formats but doing something is better than doing nothing.  This resonates with me and is a fantastic philosophy to live by.  If you just turn up then you are onto something.  Why is this so important?  It’s a huge start because so many people contemplate starting a fat loss nutritional protocol or hiring a personal trainer or coach to whip them into shape, but don’t.  In fact too many people are just sat in the contemplation zone and rarely dip their toes into the ocean of actually doing something.  So if you are one of those people that consistently turns up then you are way ahead of the majority still stood on the waters edge. It doesn’t sound like much but trust me, it is.


I quite frequently get asked ‘whats your secret man’ or ‘how do you manage to keep a six pack’ and the answer that I give to people is the actually the last thing they really want to hear.  They want to know how they can get a quick fix towards their goals but the truth of the matter is that I eat healthy ALL THE TIME and train A LOT.  These two combined are the only secrets anyone who is in shape will have to impart on you so there you go.  Eat healthy all the time and train a lot.  Simple yeah?  Nope!

The second point on this list of fat loss transitions is that now you have turned up and are ready to do what it takes you now have to start your fat loss journey by going into the kitchen, take a deep breath and start throwing things out of your cupboards. Spending 30mins removing all junk food, sugary drinks and any and all processed foods from your cupboards and fridge will have more impact on your fat loss than that zumba class you are going to twice a week.  It’s harsh, but it’s true. I don’t care how many situps you do a week, if you don’t change your diet you will not see a change in that area.  The only reason my clients do work on the abs or entire core region is to increase support during movement. A toned stomach starts in the kitchen with clean eating being the primary food and damn hard work in the gym being the side dish to this meal.


I’m not going to waffle on about the science and reasons behind why I suggest the following foods too much.  If you want to talk about it in more detail than email me at and I will be happy to answer any questions you have in more depth.  

So here it is, you are less than 2 months away from that holiday you booked and you aren’t happy with how your body looks.  You have tried increasing your stomach crunches from 50-100 a day.  Your neck is aching, your stomach feels harder but underneath a 2 inch layer of fat that won’t budge.  Instead of increasing your stomach crunches from 100 a day to 500 a day just bear with me for two mins, read the ‘so simple a child could understand it’ nutritional advice below, digest it (no pun intended) and do it.  You can forget about the stomach crunches and neck ache from too much spinal flexion.

From now until your holiday/beach trip/ party eat and drink the following foods and drink.

– Any meat (including fish), eggs, any vegetables (excluding potatoes), berried fruit, nuts or nut butters, avocado’s, olives, olive oil, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut water, water, any spices and herbs.
So in one sentence you have dozens upon dozens of meal options. All it means is removing the following foods


This means all forms of sugar apart from the sugars found in vegetables (not potatoes) and some fruit.  I’ll say that again, the only sources of carbohydrates or sugar that you will be eating will come from vegetables and fruit. No exceptions, period.

Think you need that red bull mid morning to give your energy levels a boost? Then you are wrong, our ancestors didn’t rely on high sugar and caffeinated drinks for energy so neither do you. This also means cutting out rice, pasta, bread or any gluten containing products like sausage rolls, pasties, pizza’s, cakes, biscuits or cookies, breakfast cereals of any kind and obviously chocolate and sweets.

So lets just stop for a minute and assess what i’ve just said as for some people even though it’s written in black and white it still doesn’t sink in.

Meat? Check!

Vegetables? Check!

Fruit? Check

Nuts, olives, avocado’s? Check!

Eggs? Including the yolks? Check and check!

Bucket loads of water? Check!

It’s that simple folks.  If you can cut out the crap and concentrate on unprocessed natural foods that are grown or caught wild then you are onto a winner.  Do yourself a favour and simplify things.  You will drop body fat, you will have more energy, you will improve your blood profiles, you will sleep better.  

Also take a good dose of fish oil to speed up the effects.  Fish oil is one of the most inti inflammatory products available to us.  High dosing on a quality fish oil has proven to speed fat loss, decrease the time it takes to recover from workouts and help with energy levels. 1g/ml per % of body fat is a good guide to follow.

A note to the wise though, portion control of all the foods above is of course of paramount importance.  If you just sit and eat three punnets of strawberries, followed by 2 bags of nuts on top of your three meals a day, dropping fat is unlikely to occur.  Don’t be a fool, eat sensibly.


After you have engaged your ‘turn up’ mentality, it’s now time to start exercising.  Hit the weights or do some form of resistance training to build lean muscle mass and engage the fat burning within your body.  If you don’t have access to a gym then do some bodyweight exercises, but please ensure that you keep your training progressive.  If you are able to master the bodyweight squat, find some way to increase the resistance.  Just continually increasing the reps until you are doing 200 reps isn’t the most efficient way to progress.  I’m sorry to say this but the ‘aerobic’ classes like zumba might be really fun but if fat loss is your primary goal then you need to shift your efforts towards an activity better suited to those goals.  Endless spin classes a week may initially help but you will end up losing muscle mass along with the fat you will be dropping and you will look and feel a little haggard before your body adapts and cortisol levels sore and fat loss halts regardless of how many spin sessions you attend (apologies again to the spin fanatics, but it’s the truth).  

My triathlete clients that run and cycle hundreds of miles a month know that doing weights is important to maintain muscle mass so you should too.  If you don’t know what to do then hire a trainer or coach.  It’s their job to know the most efficient ways to help you towards your goals.  I read an interesting tweet a while ago that said that someone who enters a gym and expects to train like a pro without the help of someone qualified to do so is like representing yourself in court. You might just scrape enough info to cover the basics but in the end you will struggle.   


This is one of those crucial points that some people ignore when embarking on a new goal.  Make your nutrition and training work for you.  Phase it in in the best possible format that works for you.  If you can’t drop a certain food because you feel emotionally attached to eating it then drop something else and phase in the rest until you have all bases covered.  The same applies to your exercise regime.  Make it work for you but either way prepare yourself to make some sacrifices to get what you want.


If you only have 3 weeks to drop a shed load of fat then it might be unlikely that you will achieve this.  It’s important that your expectations of yourself and of your coach are realistic.  If you want to drop fat but find yourself eating sugary treats in the evening because you are bored, accept that this will hinder your progress so don’t bitch about it. If you are prepared to go the extra mile then you can expect faster results.  You get out what you put in and your body doesn’t lie. 

This isn’t an exclusive list of things related to fat loss in fact i’m just skimming over the top but for most of you hopefully it’s a start.  The nutritional advice above isn’t exclusive and you will need to tweak things but again I hope is enough to get you started.  If you want to read about how to eat for better health and fat loss in more depth then head on over to  Robb wrote a book called the Paleo Solution which will change the way you look at food, so go buy it.

If still in doubt after everything above just follow the KISS principal;




Simplify things, it doesn’t need to be difficult it just needs to work.

Hard work.

What does it really mean to ‘work hard’?  You may know what it means to work hard, but are you actually ready to work hard?

This is a question that I face all too often when dealing with my clients.  A lot of people know what it means to work hard in the gym and work towards a transformation, but it is a whole different ball game in actually executing the action and doing it.

Does working hard equate to just joining the gym and getting yourself down there a few times a week to do some form of exercise? Are you working yourself hard by visualising your goals and preparing yourself to make a change? Is it hiring a trainer or coach to help give you direction and motivation? Is it that last repetition on your final set that hurts like hell but you or your coach pushes you to complete?

I’d say that all of the above equates to hard work on one level or another.  But if that really is the case, then where would you fit on that scale? Are you one of those people that after seeing yourself gain 15 lbs over a year decide to join the gym and jump on the treadmill for 20 minutes 3 times a week. If you are, do you really think that that is enough to help you reach your target body composition? (read my blog here on cardio vs weight training for fat loss for more info on why this method sucks. 

If the honest answer is no, then my next question is; what are you prepared to do to actually get to where you want to?

Hiring a trainer to help you get where you want might be the next best option right? We’ve trained in exercise and advanced nutritional know-how so are naturally a good option to help you achieve you’re goals yeah? Well yes we are.  

So you have hired yourself a trainer and now expect superb results in and out of the gym fairly pronto.  But the trainer you hire, makes you do exercises that cause your muscles to ache for 3 days to begin with and you don’t like this.  Not only that but your trainer has asked you to stop eating breads, rice, and potatoes for a start. This guy must be crazy right? The food pyramid tells us that we need plentiful portions of carbs in order to maintain energy.   So you start to question why you got a trainer in the first place. It’s a natural inclination to ask how it can be a good thing to be in pain and to cut out a lot of the foods that our government tells us we should have lots of.  But you remind yourself of the age old saying ‘no pain, no gain’ and that you have committed yourself to giving this a go for a month or 2 so continue to adhere to your trainers requests of dropping certain foods and working hard in the gym.

This is the logical path and thought processes that go through a hell of a lot of people’s minds.  It is however at this point where Joe/Jane bloggs is likely to go in one of 3 directions that will ultimately affect how they are likely to look and feel about their appearance and overall health in a few months time.

Person 1. Unaccustomed to having to make drastic changes, and having the trainer make them work hard.  Despite having a good time in the sessions and seeing some pretty good results with regards to body shape and the numbers within the gym, this person will eventually give up on training after a couple of months. They are likely to have had some really good results in a short period of time but don’t believe that they can continue like this for much longer, not because their trainer is working them hard, but because they don’t want to let themselves work hard.  They retire and ultimately digress rather than progress. These are the people that thought about working hard, gave it a go then thought better of it.

Person 2. After seeing some good results they opt to keep training with their trainer and listen to them.   They adhere to the nutritional protocols in the most part and enjoy their sessions in the gym.  Not only have they dropped a dress/jeans size, they surprisingly find themselves enjoying the fact that they are getting stronger within the gym and are seeing weekly progress in all of the main exercises. The back pain they may have complained of at the start has vanished, the bloated feeling that they used to get after food has disappeared and they are having the best sleep they have had in years! They become accustomed to the twice weekly sessions and are receiving some nice compliments regarding their appearance from friends and family, they may even be getting more attention from the opposite sex! These people after a period of time are most likely to start to think that even though they haven’t reached their goals quite yet, they feel like they have done pretty good so far so start to let their nutrition slip a little more frequently and despite the great sessions in the gym they start to plateau in terms of their appearance.  These are the workhorses of the world that give themselves to an ideal and stick at it but aren’t really prepared to go the full hog for some reason.  They succeed and do it in relative style but are just short of working that extra bit harder in order to be one of the few out there like person 3.

3. Now these sorts of people are the leaders in terms of self-motivating, complete transformation types.  Not only do they find that they are enjoying the hard work in the gym, but they are enjoying working hard on their nutrition. They love that they are seeing results and love having their trainer push them beyond their personal ideas of physical capabilities or boundaries.  These are the people who lose 2 stone of body fat in the short space of a few months, they are the people that completely let go when they step into the gym and trust that their trainer will give them 100% of their attention and motivation every session. They are the people that put on insane amounts of weight to their squats in a drastically short period of time or cut a huge chunk of time from their runs, or find that they are so much more explosive in their chosen sport.  Not just because they are physically able to, but because they wanted to work hard and they allowed themselves to be worked even harder by their trainer.  They find themselves being the one to motivate their friends and family to do the same despite the fact that it is completely out of character to do so.  They are inspired by their trainer and their own hard work and in doing so continue to keep pushing themselves because for them, the goal posts are ever changing.

I believe that every single person out there has the capability to allow themselves to go onto the levels that person number 3 does.  It doesn’t really come down to how capable you are, it simply comes down to how badly you want something.  This approach extends way beyond the weight room and kitchen cupboards but all boils down to one thing. Working your ass off! If you want to make a change, go find yourself a quality trainer who has had great results with other clients and who doesn’t just talk as though their ideas came from a book.  Find someone that has experience under the bar and has pushed themselves to their physical and mental limits.  Because if they haven’t experienced it for themselves, how on earth can you expect them to make you do something that they don’t truly understand.  And lastly find someone who is going to make you work hard! My clients work hard, all of them.  I hope that they are inspired to work hard when they turn up to each training session, and if they are, I work them a little harder still.  This approach has scared off potential clients before now and it is something that I am not ashamed of.  In any business, results speak for themselves and I have plenty of results walking the streets nearby.

If you read my last blog post you will i’m sure, realise that I advocate the use of a low carbohydrate nutritonal program for optimal health and fat loss. This blog is a follow on from my sugar addiction article that highlighted the pschological need that some people have for carbohydrates in particular sweet sugary foods. This blog intends to briefly highlight some of the aesthetical and biological things that can occur when such an addiction or indeed simply a diet rich in carbs is in use. It must be pointed out from the off that not all carbohydrates have the effect on our bodies as listed below. Some fruits and a large quantity of vegetables are crucial for our wellbeing and do not have the associated issues that I mention,

Nutrionalists the world over tell us that eating a diet high in whole grains and other rich starchy carbohydrates is a great way to maintain good energy levels and optimum health. What they don’t tell you is the science behind the glycogen stored and how they can affect us aesthetically. My nutritonal principles are mainly based around optimum health, but I work in an industry that requires me to create results for my clients that will improve the way that they look. Luckily for my clients, they get the best of both worlds.

Glycogen the stored energy source within our muscles and liver cells are units of energy that are massively hydrated (they bind with water cells within the body in order to maintain stable). 1g of glycogen can bind with approx 3g of water.

Fatty Acids on the other hand are fairly hydrophobic (water free) and therefore do not require the binding to water in our bodies when stored and thus not the excess water retention.

What do these facts mean for us aethestically?

If we have a diet very rich in carbohydrates 2 main things occurr. Firstly a large amount of glycogen is stored in the body, each one of these cells requireing a large amount of water to be binded to it. This helps to create the bloating effect in our bodies through extra water retention. Just look at people who have large beer bellies or have chunky arms that just look saturated with water. These are one of the signs of people eating a diet too high in carbohydrates.

The second thing that happens in our bodies when we have a diet containing an excess amount of carbs is this;

Our bodies only require so much sugar to be stored as glycogen. Once this limit has been exceeded or if due to insulin resistance the sugars are unable to be stored as glycogen, our bodies have to do something with the excess sugar floating around in the blood. So in the presence of insulin (whose levels have spiked as a result of carbs in our bodies), the excess sugars are then transported to the adipose (fat tissues) in our bodies to be stored as extra fat. It is our bodies way of preparing for winter much like our ancestors did thousands of years ago, or the same way that a bear stores excess fat in preperation for hibernation.

Swapping a diet high in carbohydrates with one that uses fatty acids for energy has a twofold bonus. Firstly your body will not need to store the fatty acids you consume as excess body fat as it is to be used as the majority energy source in place of glycogen through the energy system ketogenesis. So from an aesthetic point of view, not only will you stop storing body fat, you will begin to use the excess body fat that you have stored in your body as energy. People who start on a low-carb diet usually lose a fair amount of weight in the first few weeks. This isn’t likely to be body fat for the first few weeks, it is more likely to be excess water retention. People on high protein/fat diets allow their kidneys to process fluids more rapidly as a side effect of a high carb diet is one that causes the kidneys to retain more water due to a hoarding effect of salt. Less salt hoarding means less water retention. This only helps to create a leaner slimmer you.

The second point to this is that not only will you start to look better on the outside, you will look better on the inside. Fat storage around the liver and kidneys etc will disperse, insulin sensitivity increasses and energy levels will become more constant helping you avoid the mid afternoon crash.

If you think that you are storing a lot of body fat, i’d suggest you take a look at your current diet. Are you eating a diet extremely high in fat which is one that the governments food triangle would suggest is the cause of obesity. Or are you consuming a diet high in carbohydrates?

Any questions or comments do get in touch!

This blog has been a long time coming. The reasons for which I decided to research, question and read up on almost anything I could find on food addiction and specifically sugar addiction, sprung from my desire to yield optimal results with my clients. I began to start noticing patterns of behaviour in certain clients with regards to their need for sugary foods and inability to stay away from them at times. In the most part I advocate a Paleo style, low carbohydrate diet for the majority of my clients. This is generally a fairly large change for a lot of people as most will have some form of starchy carbohydrate with every single meal of the day. Asking someone to stop eating a certain form of foods that they have eaten their entire lives, for some can be a very difficult process.

I wondered initially if someone struggling to drop sugar from their diet was simply a case of habit. That they were finding it difficult because it (carbs such as bread, potatoes, chocolate, cakes etc) was something that was always on the table during meals and thus constituted a fairly large portion of their daily nutritional intake. I thought perhaps that it was because suddenly there was a large void in their daily food source and it was convenient for them to just keep adding it to meals. I then started to ask myself whether the sometimes impulsive need for sugar that some of my clients felt on a fairly regular basis could be down to some form of addiction to the sugar itself. That the repetition of a particular behaviour (in this case, eating a diet high in sugar) could have ultimately led to a physiological or psychological dependence to sugar as a result of the hormonal and social conforms that affect us. Could a diet high in sugar cause a subliminal subconscious need for sugar when it is eliminated from a persons diet? This then got me thinking about other people in my life such as friends, family, friends of friends etc and how their diets may be affected by an addiction to sugar and how this addiction could take place without them even realising it. (For the purpose of this blog i’d like to link the term ‘sugar addiction’ with a more general term of ‘carbohydrate addiction’ as will be mentioned further on).

Firstly, what do we define as an addiction?

Take a look in the dictionary and you will see something that reads similar to:

“addiction: a compulsive physiological, psychological need for a habit-forming substance”

Scientists claim that addiction is a behaviour brought about and diagnosed by periods of binging, withdrawal and craving.

Binging is classed as an escalated intake with a high proportion of the addicted substance being consumed in one sitting (usually after a period of withdrawal). This binging period is thought to reinforce the effects of the ‘drug’.

Withdrawal is exactly what you think it is, periods of time without the substance.

Craving is thought to be brought about by the withdrawal time away from the substance and as such will eventually result in a further binge.

The above system was used as an explanation for sugar addiction by Nicole Avena ( in 2008 when she studied the effect of sugar on opioids and dopamine levels in rats after periods of withdrawal and binging. The binging on sugar being used as the reinforcer for changes on opioid and dopamine levels. Her study proved that rats that were given periods of withdrawal and binging ate over a shorter period of time a larger amount of sugar solution than rats that had the sugar solution for a longer period of time (proving the binging-withdrawal theory). The study suggested that this withdrawal/binging period brought on chemical changes in the brains of the rats and thus formed a dependence on sugar.

So what are the signs of sugar addiction?

From what I have observed in others, sugar addiction manifests itself in some rather random forms. I think that at its worst, sugar addiction can cause irritableness, bodily shakes and potentially a generally depressed mood. The most likely form that sugar addiction portrays is a craving for something sweet. This craving can just be in the form of thinking to yourself “you know what, I fancy some chocolate” through to a real burning craving that remains in the forefront of your mind no matter what you may be doing.

The people that I find are most ‘addicted’ to sugar or carbohydrates in general are those people that bring their initial food diary to me and it consists of an extremely large percentage of carbs and sugary foods, with very little to no protein or vegetables. These are the people that I know are most likely to show signs of sugar dependence from the off when introducing a new nutritional system.

Lets now talk about the culprit behind all of this; sugar. It comes in many forms nowadays and is present in most foods that can be bought. Last years global production of the white stuff sat at around 160 million tonnes per year with the total global sugar consumption at a little higher, around 165 million tonnes per year. And this is just cane sugar alone, this figure doesn’t take into account the mass produced high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that is becoming ever more frequent in our foods of today. Figures of overall American consumption of sugar and sweeteners such as HFCS (from a range of sources i’ve found) sit between 130-150 pounds per capita. This number is far higher than one hundred years ago when yearly sugar consumption was around 90 pounds per capita. Check out this crop from an article from The New York Times printed in 1902 that talks about sugar consumption of the time:

So it’s clear from the above figures that sugar consumption has drastically risen over the past 100 years or so. If we were to plot a graph of annual sugar consumption per capita and the rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiac issues, increased blood pressure any other metabolic disorders and even rates of severe depression, we would undoubtedly see a gradual rise of all of the above mentioned. For example, the numbers of people affected by diabetes in the UK rose from 1.4 million to 2.6 million people from 1996-2010 (sourced from That’s an increase of 120,000 more people per year being diagnosed. Around 85-90% of that number is of people suffering with type 2 diabetes which is, to be frank most commonly brought on by a diet high in sugar and saturated or trans fats. Diabetes is in itself closely linked to obesity rates. Cases of young adults and even of kids as young as 9 are being diagnosed as diabetic. This is not something that our grandparents would have had to deal with at their age, so why us?

Our governments are always keen on passing the blame onto the fast food industry which is obviously well known for supplying cheap, high sugar, high saturated and trans fatty foods. Although I do agree with the fast food industry being part of the problem, I do also believe that we need to look a little closer to home in order to understand why rates of obesity etc. have risen and how this could be linked to sugar addiction.

Lets take a step back for a moment and look at the foods that are going into the mouths of kids these days. Breakfast is probably the best place to start when looking for an answer for sugar addiction brought on from childhood. Cereals caked in sugar such as; sugar puffs, cocoa pops, frosted flakes, cookie crisp, lucky charms etc through to the popular pop tarts are the norms found in a lot of people’s breakfast cupboard. As children we are told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and will help set us up for the day. This information is true, however where parents are going wrong is by purchasing foods high in sugar for their breakfast. Feeding children cereals such as the ones mentioned above is only reinforcing the idea that having sugar for breakfast is a good thing. Children wake up and start to expect that sugary rush that you get from eating such foods and at the same time are subliminally being told that its good for them. This is where I believe the psychological dependence for most starts. I think that a set of habit-forming psychological dependencies that start when we are very young and build up (albeit subconsciously in the most part) all the way into our adult years is to blame. This topped with outdated government guidelines on recommended carbohydrate consumption aids the reinforcement in making us believe that we need such levels of carbohydrates, especially first thing in the morning which isn’t scientifically correct.

As kids get older, they enter secondary (high) school and start to have a little more control of their own nutrition. This is usually the time when bad decisions are made and sweets and sugary drinks galore become part of their daily life. Skip forward a few years to being old enough to go out and get drunk with their friends (which is at least a couple of years younger than 18 in the UK) and teenagers start to consume the sugary alcopops and cider with the obligatory burger and chips or kebab at the end of the night. Shoot forwards even further until they are in their mid twenties……

The average person is now consuming a diet rich in sugar and other simple carbohydrates. Lets take a look at what might be considered a normal day for them…..

Upon waking first thing in the morning (a time when our bodies cortisol and fat burning potential is at it’s lowest by the way) they make themselves one of the many cups of tea or coffee they are due to drink throughout the day with the usual 1 or 2 sugars. Breakfast consists of toast and marmalade or a big bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes (of which 82g out of 100g are carbohydrates). They get to work and it’s someone’s birthday so a nice selection of cakes and doughnuts are there, they take a small cupcake and have it at their desk with cup of tea number 2 (+1 sugar). Mid morning tea (+1 sugar) and another slither of cake ensues. Lunch consists of a round of sandwiches, a packet of crisps, a chocolate bar or flapjack and a can of coke. Another cup of tea (+1 sugar) when they get back to their desk and perhaps another biscuit that’s left on the side. Mid afternoon brings about the usual slump in energy that most people complain of so more tea (+1 sugar) and another cake that ‘Joe’ brought in for his birthday is required to pick up the energy levels so they can last until 5pm. By the time they get home this individual is tired once more and so starts about getting dinner ready. Dinner is a chicken breast, a few sausages, a mountain of mashed potatoes and baked beans. They might have a glass of coke to help wash this meal down. After dinner has been cleared up, they might have a piece of fruit and another cup of tea (+1 sugar). 9:30pm comes around and they start to feel peckish again so they hit the biscuit barrel for some light relief from hunger before bed.

This isn’t necessarily a true representation of all men and women out there but i’d like to highlight the foods that I believe help to not just add to the dependence that many people I deal with have for sugar but for carbohydrates in general. Below is the above paragraph except that this time I have highlighted in bold all of the foods that contain high sugar or carbohydrates.

Upon waking first thing in the morning (a time when our bodies cortisol and fat burning potential is at it’s lowest by the way) they make themselves one of the many cups of tea or coffee they are due to drink throughout the day with the usual 1 or 2 sugars. Breakfast consists of toast and marmalade or a big bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes (of which 82g out of 100g are carbohydrates). They get to work and it’s someone’s birthday so a nice selection of cakes and doughnuts are there, they take a small cupcake and have it at their desk with cup of tea number 2 (+1 sugar). Mid morning tea (+1 sugar) and another slither of cake ensues. Lunch consists of a round of sandwiches, a packet of crisps, a chocolate bar or flapjack and a can of coke. Another cup of tea (+1 sugar) when they get back to their desk and perhaps another biscuit that’s left on the side. Mid afternoon brings about the usual slump in energy that most people complain of so more tea (+1 sugar) and another cake that ‘Joe’ brought in for his birthday is required to pick up the energy levels so they can last until 5pm. By the time they get home this individual is tired once more and so starts about getting dinner ready. Dinner is a chicken breast, a few sausages, a mountain of mashed potatoes and baked beans. They might have a glass of coke to help wash this meal down. After dinner has been cleared up, they might have a piece of fruit and another cup of tea (+1 sugar). 9:30pm comes around and they start to feel peckish again so they hit the biscuit barrel for some light relief from hunger before bed.

All of the ‘little’ sugary things listed above we add or our diet eventually builds up over the course of the day resulting in a diet that is incredibly high in carbohydrates and low in many other essential nutrients. But why have I highlighted bread, potatoes and beans in the same category as coke and sugar? Please read on.

I have observed that it isn’t just the need for sugar that has fed addictive type behaviours it is a general diet consisting largely of carbohydrates. Government guidelines tell us that complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread and rice are great healthy options and should consist the largest part of our diet. Latest scientific evidence brought forward over the last 10-15 years or so would refute this claim (for more info on how grain based diets are detrimental to insulin sensitivity and fat storage, i’d recommend you read this book…. The irony, however, is that in the most part (and I may be over generalising in some cases), our bodies will break a mars bar and large jacket potato down into the same end product: Glucose. The only difference with them is the speed that the sugars are broken down. Now without going off track into the science behind the break down of sugars and their effect on insulin and our bodies reaction to constant high rates of insulin i’d prefer to focus on the psychological effects that eating sugars and copious amounts of carbohydrates has on us.

As mentioned earlier, as children we become used to the sweet taste of breakfast cereals, the sweet taste of coke etc. and the ever increasing amount of artificial sweeteners in almost all foods. For most people, a sweet tasting food brings about positive feelings or emotions towards said food or drink. This constant positive reinforcement helps to subconsciously condition ourselves into feeling the need for sugars. Much like how Pavlov’s dog was able to link the ringing of a bell with food, we link sugar and foods high in carbohydrates that give us a quick fix to the problem of tiredness with the associated pleasant feelings afterwards.

If something makes us feel good, regardless of the aesthetic changes that it may have on us, we are more than likely willing to take that risk and repeat the behaviour.
This is something that I work on trying to recondition on a daily basis.

Currently the majority of my clients eat in a system that allows a cheat meal every 5 days or so with the other periods of time without any sugar or carbohydrates aside from fruit and veg. By using the model of addiction based on a binge-withdrawal-crave system, one would suggest that a large proportion of my clients would, after binging on sugar in their cheat meal form a stronger addiction to the sugar itself over a period of time. I would argue that this is not necessarily the case. Yes some of my clients enjoy a large piece of cheesecake on their cheat days but I do not feel that this is forming a sugar addicted behavioural change or an increased one at that. Periods of carbohydrate withdrawal in my clients doesn’t always necessarily bring about a binge on sugar or other carbohydrates on their cheat meal days. Some choose to eat foods that aren’t high in carbohydrates at all. There are however some of my clients that have struggled to drop sugar from their diet and have struggled with this from day one. The change of nutrition to a system that increases periods of time without carbohydrates I feel has only highlighted an addiction that was present before the change, not created or worsened one, in fact it has helped curb the binges in some cases.

When I get my clients to remove carbohydrates from their diets, those that show the highest dependence on sugar or other forms of carbohydrates have actually produced feedback that even after a period of months on a low carb diet with some form of sugar dependence apparent from the start, when they are allowed sugar on their cheat meals the joy of having it lessens each time. It appears that they psychologically still have the need for the sugar, but when it comes to actually eating it, their bodies are now so sensitive to sugars that they either need less of it to fulfil their addictive cravings or they simply cannot eat as much as they once did before changing their diet due to extreme bloating. Their low carbohydrate diet has in fact increased their bodies sensitivity to sugars. Any intolerance that has built up over the years suddenly becomes apparent in the form of extreme bloating or the feeling of grogginess the following day. I have found that these physiological changes enhance my clients awareness of how they used to feel when eating a diet high in sugar and other carbohydrates and aids with positively conditioning them in taking ownership of their health. They no longer wish to feel bloated and groggy after eating sugar and thus starts a new cycle of operant conditioning in reinforcing the need for less.

I believe that instead of a solely binge/withdrawal system producing a dependence on sugar or other carbohydrates, a behavioural system based on habit, convenience and positive reinforcement also plays a large part in the sugar dependence that has spread across the globe.

So how do we best target and help people with sugar addiction? How can you help yourself?

My experience with sugar addiction is at this point largely brief and my comments above are all observational. That being said, I do think that a diet where carbohydrates of all forms are carefully controlled is a brilliant way to tackle the problem to begin with. Seeking the advice of someone who knows the ins and outs of nutrition and can provide the expertise and in some case more importantly the support to help you control such an addiction is going to be highly useful.

Whether you are someone who has a diet full of sugar and other carbs or someone that just enjoys a chocolate bar a few times a week I would suggest that you take a look at your diet and think about how much sugar and other carbohydrates you are consuming. Our bodies actually require a hell of a lot less than you could imagine in order to survive comfortably. Just think about the rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiac issues that have astronomically risen over the past century. Are you subliminally about to add to that figure by making choices that may seem socially acceptable in today’s society or are you going to take ownership of your health and well-being and do what your body deserves?

The definition of insanity is “to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.”

How many of you reading this have yo-yo’d in and out of the gym or attempted and re-attempted the same diet over and over and not really had any spectacular results?

If you are one of the many that repeat the same behaviours and expect different results, or better results the next time, please use this blog as a wake up call. Take a step back and ask yourself the following questions with regards to your training or nutritional yo’yo behaviour….

What are your goals?
Did the diet or training regime you are using work last time in reaching those goals?
If the answer is no to that question, then ask yourself why you slipped up or results tapered off?
Was it because you got bored, unmotivated or that the system you started with worked initially but results stagnated after a while?
If the answer is yes to those questions then ask yourself why you are repeating a training program or nutritional plan that didn’t work in the long run?

We’d all love to look fantastic all year round right? So why not look and feel fantastic all year round? What is stopping you from achieving this?

As a Personal Trainer, the reason that some people come to train with me initially is because they were not consciously happy with the answers that they received to the questions above. No idea how to take the next step or push yourself to train differently or eat in a way that is going to help you reach optimal results? If you aren’t happy or content with progress, let me tell you that there is always a little more you can do to make a change. The goal posts can always be moved and benchmarks reset. If you don’t know what it is that you can do to make a change then find someone who may help you find that answer.

A better version of yourself doesn’t always come easy but isn’t always a journey that you have to undertake alone.

Everyone has what it takes to make a change, some people just need that little nudge in the right direction.

To your health!

This evening I had a conversation with one of my clients about his reasons for deciding to undertake exercise at the begining of the year. His initial reasons were of course aesthetic ones regarding size and shape of muscles etc. But I pointed out something to him that I believe to be something that we should all be asking ourselves before we get old.

When we get older and when in our 70’s/80’s we are unable to move quite as well as we did when we were younger, is a man who looks back on his life and see’s how lazy he was in his 20’s, 30’s & 40’s going to be content with that average lifestyle? Or is he more likely to wish that when he’d had the chance, he’d joined a gym or started a sport or just went out for a run, just because he could. These are the things that become increasingly difficult with age and when your time to be able to be highly active or at the top of your game has passed, there is no turning back the clocks. The point i’m getting to is this:

If you are able to work hard on your diet, exercise regime and mental well being and reap the rewards of increased energy, self esteem and a potential longer life, then why the hell don’t you!? Anybody with with the right coach, trainer or guide is genuinely only 12 weeks away from being in the best shape of their life. If you can then you should, because if you don’t you will regret it. You owe it to yourself to be the best version of yourself so you can look back with pride on your achievements. If not now then when?

‘Anyone who ever gave their best never regretted it’

This is a true fact (and one of my favourite quotes), win or lose, reach your goal or not. If you gave everything you had then you won’t regret it because you didn’t leave anything behind. Any sense of doubt that you could have been more or done more at that specific point in time should be non existant. Self worth is achieved through giving your best. This applies to more than just the weight room, but for many people its a great place to start.