Stress And Weight Gain

If you’ve been stressed for any period of time you may have noticed some weight gain. Or the case may be that it was somewhat harder to maintain your weight. But why, exactly, is stress a problem? We might eat more and exercise less, but is that all there is to it? And what are the underlying reasons? Thankfully we have some insights into this from researchers at UCLA in the US which showed why stress and obesity are so closely related.

How Stress Can Lead To Weight Gain

The following graphic is adapted from their review. The idea is that stress can affect numerous systems that are involved in weight control. Follow all the little arrows and you see that these aren’t isolated effects and that each one actually creates a feedback loop or a continuous cycle.

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Cognition – Stress can mess with your mental skills like thinking, planning, and organizing, as well as the ability to focus and manage your emotions.

Behaviours – Stress can influence eating, physical activity and sleep behaviours. Each of those can also affect one another.

Physiology – When stress hormones are higher they can make you want to eat more food or tell your body to store more fat. Stress increases your appetite for more feel good chemicals like dopamine. This in turn makes you want to eat really tasty foods (like the ones with a perfect mix of sugar and fat, ice cream or donuts for example).

Biochemistry – Stress may also influence blood chemicals related to weight control like leptin, grehlin and neuropeptide Y. These are responsible for suppressing hunger and appetite (leptin and neuropeptide Y) , stimulating hunger and appetite (grehlin) and stimulating fat storage (neuropeptide Y).

How Obesity Can Lead To Stress

With the addition of weight stigma we get another feedback loop and the vicious cycle goes on and on.

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Eating advice and nutrition plans can only go so far. The topic we’ve covered here shows that there’s often much more going on than the bare foods we eat. Getting the right amount of proteins, carbs or fats is almost made irrelevant if stress has its way with someone’s appetite, emotions and behaviours.

What Can You Do To Manage Stress?

While I can tell you that meditation has never been my thing, it has worked for many others. You could also de-stress by spending more time outside or in nature. Go for a walk with your partner, a friend or your dog. Schedule a weekly massage. Block off time for a hobby you enjoy. Listen to some relaxing music. Find what works for you and do it more often. When you get better at managing or reducing stress it might then allow you to make better food choices. Or eat appropriate portion sizes and amounts. You could get more deep sleep and be more physically active.

Many people might not even think of stress as something that’s stopping their progress. Instead they may be racking their brains thinking it’s something about their food or training. This is why having a coach who has done and seen all this before with tons of people could be beneficial to you. Someone who has all the answers to questions you haven’t even thought of yet. Get in touch if you want to make real progress and see a better version of yourself, mentally and physically.



Tomiyama AJ. Stress and Obesity. Annu Rev Psychol. 2019 Jan 4;70:703–18.

How To Manage Problem Foods

Almost every one of us have problem foods. These are foods that we just find hard to resist. When you want to burn fat and fit into your favourite clothes better, how we manage these foods can be a difference maker. You’ve probably heard the saying ‘Everything in moderation’ right? Does it actually work?

Researchers at Penn State University asked 186 women who were classified as overweight or obese to rank the foods they can’t resist and find hard to stop eating. The most common foods that topped their lists were;

  • Ice cream
  • Crisps
  • Chocolate
  • Cookies
  • Pizza

No huge surprises there! The researchers then had the women follow a weight loss plan for 12 months and monitored their strategies for managing their problem foods. After the 12 months they found that the best strategy to manage problem foods was limiting the portion sizes. In fact the women who used this strategy more often lost 7.2 kilos compared to women who used it less frequently who only lost 3.8 kilos. That’s almost twice as much weight loss by following that one strategy.

How Can You Work On Your Problem Foods?

Make a list of your problem foods. This will increase your awareness of them and hopefully reveal some patterns. While the researchers didn’t say avoiding foods completely was a great strategy, we can use our own initiative on that. Let’s look at it this way. You’re tired, stressed or absolutely starving. There’s a tasty food from your problem food list staring at you in your kitchen cupboard or fridge. What do you think will happen? No matter how much willpower you have you’re going to grab that food and tuck in. If the problem food is in your house it’s going to be eaten. However, the same goes for foods that are healthier for you. If we have foods that are better for us in the house we’re more likely to eat those too. It’s just about being aware of these things and slowly making that switch. And at the end of the day if you must use a strategy for problem foods limit the portion sizes.

Maybe Eating In Moderation Does Work, Maybe It Doesn’t

It depends. That’s the honest answer. My way of coaching is that there no good or bad foods. Foods are either better or worse for you and your goals. Everyone is different. There are some foods that just don’t work with people and should probably be avoided. Refer to these foods as your “Red Light” foods. These foods might not work for you because;

  • They don’t help you achieve your goals
  • You always overeat them
  • You’re allergic to them
  • You can’t digest them easily
  • They give you pains or make you feel awful afterwards

Take 5 minutes out of your day, get a pen and paper and actually write down a list of your problem foods. Be completely honest with yourself and how these foods affect you. If there’s a food on the list that you know you can enjoy without overeating and have control while eating it, great. If a food has any “Red Light” characteristics then you know what to do.

Eat Slowly and Until 80% Full

Do You Eat Too Quickly?

It takes 20 minutes for fullness cues to be sent around our bodies. That is the time it takes your stomach to send a signal to your brain and come back again to say you’re full. It’s in those 20 minutes that someone can overeat. Speaking to clients and gym members over the years, eating too quickly is one of the things that comes up a lot. The good news is it’s also something that be worked on without actually changing your diet. This is the reason it’s one of the first habits I coach clients. Even when someone says “I eat healthily” they can still overeat if they eat too quickly. It can still happen with good quality foods. If I scoff down huge amounts of the best foods the chances are that I’ll still eat too many calories. The food may be highly nutritious but if I’m looking to burn some fat it just won’t work. Now imagine if my food choices weren’t great, the surplus calories would reach a huge total. Which leads to today’s point of interest.

Slow Down

Part of my coaching is to allow you to eat your favourite foods but to improve your habits. I want to add better things in and not cut things out. This goes in the face of every diet you see on social media or TV. You know the ones where you cut out carbs, lose a ton of weight, regain the weight and learn nothing. I’m not a fan of “everything in moderation” either. Your idea of moderation will be different to mine and the next person’s and the next’s etc. Instead of cutting things out and being restrictive I want to coach someone healthier habits for their goals, how much to eat and why. The first part of that is eating slowly.

Let’s say your diet is absolutely dreadful and includes high calorie meals full of sugar and fat. Not only that but you eat really fast. In the time it takes your brain to send the ‘I’m full’ signal to your stomach you would consume tons of excess calories. If you just slowed down you would eat a lot less and consume fewer calories in that 20 minute window. You haven’t changed the food but you’ve saved yourself from more damage.

Here are some tips to do it;

  • Take smaller bites
  • Chew a little longer
  • Try to taste the food more
  • Have a drink between bites
  • Chat with whoever you’re eating with

You’ll be surprised how much more you’ll enjoy your meal. Once you’ve slowed down a little you can then move on to the next habit.

Eat Until 80% Full

Think of this as eating until you’re no longer hungry. You don’t have to stuff yourself with each meal. We don’t live on a deserted island not knowing when we’ll get food again. Gratefully the majority of us have food readily available for our next meal and you don’t need to hit your daily calorie numbers in one sitting. Most people have a problem with leaving food behind so they clear the plate. This becomes a problem when portion control isn’t great and so most of us finish a meal feeling stuffed. Before you learn better portion control, eating until 80% full or until no longer hungry helps with this problem. A good gauge of having eaten the right amount is that you shouldn’t feel hungry, you should feel energised and able to get up and move around easily or go for a walk. If you feel sluggish, heavy or need to sit down after eating you’ve probably overdone it!

Something For You To Try

After a typical meal of yours note how you feel immediately after finishing and each hour until your next meal. If you’ve eaten the correct amount for your fat loss goals it should resemble something like this;

Immediately after – Not hungry at all or like you could have eaten a little more.

1 hour after – Fully satisfied with no desire to eat another meal.

2 hours after – Maybe a little hungry but by no means an overwhelming need to eat.

3 hours after – You should be feeling the need to eat again. A 7 or 8 out of 10 for hunger. This could be more or less depending on any physical activity you might have done. If you’re not hungry now you probably ate too much at that previous meal.

4 hours after – You are now at an 8 or 9 out of 10 for hunger. Objects are turning into different foods like that lion sees in the Madagascar animated movie. It’s around this time that if we let our hunger get this far we’re more likely to make poor food choices.

Take Home Message

Eating slowly and until 80% full might take some getting used to. If you’re serious about changing your health and fitness for the better it really is worth giving a go for a couple weeks. It will help improve digestion, your training performance should be better and you’ll enjoy your meals more. And it’s not even restrictive. Hope this helps!

Protein – Quantity, Quality and Timing

Do You Know All You Need About Protein?

There are 3 factors when it comes to protein. How much you should eat, which protein to eat and when are the best times to eat it. The latest and best research states that consuming 1.6 grams per kilo of body weight is the optimum amount of protein per day. I would aim for 0.8 – 1 gram per pound of body weight. If you aim for the lower end you might not hit it, if you aim for the upper range and just miss, you’ll fall right into the perfect range. For those looking for fat loss it’s fine to eat a little more.

When it comes to quality, research also has this covered. Casein has shown to be the gold standard, followed by whey protein concentrate and then whey protein isolate. We can see this in the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Scores of 141, 133 and 125 for the 3 proteins respectively. Pea protein only scored 73 as a comparison. For you guys who may be spending money on protein supplements, casein is usually more expensive and so most people go for whey. For anyone who is just starting out in their training you can’t really go wrong once you’re hitting the protein intake amount with any of the 3 proteins. Start there and then see how you progress.

The timing of protein intake is where science doesn’t quite have it nailed down. The best results up to now has been a fairly equal spread of protein throughout the day. If you weigh 200 pounds you’d likely need 160-200 grams of protein per day. Spread over 4 meals that’d be 40-50 grams of protein at each meal which is fairly easy to do with supplementation. It becomes a little tougher with whole foods and is even harder if you’re a vegan/vegetarian without supplementation. It’s clearly not impossible but just more difficult.

What Did Some Studies Say?

A Japanese study looked into protein timing and came out with interesting results. They split a group of men into 2 groups. Both groups were given breakfast, lunch and dinner and were consuming the same overall amount of protein as the other. The big difference was that one group had a high protein breakfast using a protein drink and the other had very little protein at breakfast but much more at dinner. This reflects the majority of peoples’ diets. Think of the person rushing out the door with only a coffee and some toast (if even) or those of you who might only have cereal for instance. This was the nutrition for 12 weeks and all subjects did 3 strength training sessions per week. After 12 weeks the high protein breakfast group put on 40% more muscle than the low protein breakfast group. Without a different weights program and having the same amount of protein per day that’s an incredible result. It is crucial to your progress to have adequate protein at breakfast to stimulate more muscle protein synthesis. This means your body will make new proteins to build more muscle.

Using the Japanese study’s results we now know we need a more even amount of protein throughout our daily meals. However, we can do even better than that again. Let’s say your last meal is at 7 or 8pm, your body will now go without protein for up to 12 hours until breakfast the next morning. Instead of that, a smart practice for you to adopt is to eat some protein 30 minutes before going to bed.

A meta-study reviewed the results of 9 individual studies which looked at night time protein intake. They concluded that;

“The consumption of 20-40 grams of casein approximately 30 minutes before sleep stimulates whole-body protein synthesis rates over a subsequent overnight period in young and elderly men (preceded or not by resistance exercise, respectively). In addition, pre-sleep protein consumption can augment the muscle adaptive response (muscle fiber cross-sectional area, strength, and muscle mass) during 10-12 weeks of resistance training in young, but not in elderly men.”

In other words, consuming casein protein before bed makes your body build more muscle throughout the night. It also helps your muscles get stronger and bigger. Alternatively you could use a whey protein or a whole food option which wouldn’t do as much as casein but would be a lot better than no protein at all.

MMPT Takeaways

  • Try to have an even spread of protein intake throughout the day, especially at breakfast.
  • Experiment with protein 30 minutes before bed and see how it affects your training and progress


Jun Yasudea, et al, “Evenly Distributed Protein Intake over 3 Meals Augments Resistance Exercise-Induced Muscle Hypertrophy in Healthy Young Men,” The Journal of Nutrition, 2020, April 22.

Caio E.G. Reis, et al. “Effects of pre-sleep protein consumption on muscle-related outcomes – A systematic review,” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2020.

Samuel L. Buckner, et al. “Protein timing during the day and its relevance for muscle strength and lean mass,” Clin Physiol Funct Imaging, 2018, Mar;38(2):332-337.


What Is The Best Way To Burn Fat And Keep It Off For Good?

It’s not “exercise more and eat less”

You’ll lose that battle each and every time with your metabolism. The problem is most people want their excess fat to be gone ASAP. That’s why they adopt the wrong approach. It’s like firing all the cannons at once, it makes a big splash but your metabolism just hunkers down in the bunker. It waits for you to get tired, laughing at your folly attempts to put a lasting dent in it. You need a smarter approach. You need to whittle away at it, guerrilla style. Instead of trying and failing to burn all the unwanted fat at once we’re going to sneakily lose a small amount every week. We’ll continue to win the weekly battles until the war is won. Here’s how it’s done.

Eat more food

Yes, more food. Your body needs a caloric deficit but only by a few hundred calories a day when done the right way. Too harsh a deficit and those unwanted metabolic pathways kick into gear. Aim for a 10-15% deficit and begin tracking your progress. This way you’ll retain more muscle which burns more calories in the long run. (more on muscle shortly) While I say eat more food I also mean the right kind of food. You want high quality sources of protein, vegetables, smart carbs and healthy fats. They should make up 80-90% of your nutrition. Depending on the amount you feel you can or want to lose, give yourself 10-20% for the foods you absolutely love and can’t do without. Be brutally honest with yourself here though. I don’t ask my clients to cut out their favourite foods. They have a time and place. But if you have an unhealthy relationship with any food/beverage that’s holding you back you need to work on that. These are trigger foods. The ones where a little just isn’t enough and before you know it any sense of control is lost. A topic for another time!

Don’t be a carbophobe!

Years ago, fats had a bad name and everyone said you need to go low fat and fats were the devil! Now fats are getting a better time of it as carbs are taking all the heat. This is down to many fad diets blaming carbs for excess weight gain. It’s just not true. The vast majority of us need carbs to fuel our workouts, to give us energy for daily tasks. Our brains need glucose to function optimally. You know you’re getting enough carbs if you’re losing fat while your hunger, energy and cravings are in check. This can take a bit of experimenting to find that point but once you have it, you’re golden.

Focus on strength training

Strength training does more for your physique than spending hours and hours per week on a piece of cardio equipment. Before I move on just reflect on what your eyes tell you. When you walk into a gym, where are the people who are generally in better shape? What are they doing? They’re lifting weights, using resistance machines or using their bodies as resistance. On the occasion that they might use the cardio machines, they’re probably hill walking or doing intervals. And if not that’s what they should be doing. How does a beginner start doing these things? Use lighter weights or body-weight routines. Focus on getting stronger. Use bigger movements like squats, lunges, upper body pulls and pushes. Think compound exercises and fewer isolation exercises to begin with. Are you worried about becoming “bulky”? Snap out of it right this second. Women generally don’t have enough testosterone to build muscle. You also need to be in a caloric surplus for that to happen (you shouldn’t be) and need to be lifting a lot of weight, frequently.

Strength training works better over time because muscle is more metabolically active. It burns more calories at rest than fat does in the long run. This means we want to hold on to as much muscle as possible. As we age our bodies lose muscle. We can slow this down by strength training. It will also help us in later life if we have a fall and we don’t break a hip! When someone says “I just want to tone up” they’re saying they want to have more definition. This means there’s less fat covering the muscles leading to more definition or the muscles get bigger and the fat that is there is spread over a larger area and there’s more definition that way.

Do the right types of cardio

Cardio is better done these two ways, low impact walking or high intensity intervals. The middle ground (jogging) isn’t optimal. Walking is great for reducing cortisol (a stress hormone), it gives you time to think and doesn’t put stress on your joints. It won’t burn a ton of calories but it can be done at the end of a strength workout. Burn more calories by increasing the incline on a treadmill. High intensity interval training is great for your fitness and burning calories well after your workout has finished. This can be done as a standalone session or on days where you’ve trained upper body. Build up your fitness with some smaller runs before you begin interval training. No need to go crazy with the amount of time with these runs. We just want to look and feel better, you’re not trying to be the next Sonia O’Sullivan! I’ll talk about jogging another time. It deserves its own post for how it just isn’t good for most people.

Enjoy the process

Getting in better shape is not a quick process, it takes time and consistent effort. Give yourself that time and celebrate the many wins along the way. Being able to do a properly executed push up or pull up. Playing with your kids without being out of breath. Feeling confident in a new pair of jeans or fitting into some old favourite clothes. Notice I didn’t mention weighing a certain weight. Enjoy the food you eat and make better food choices 80-90% of the time. Do the right kind of cardio for your body and get stronger.

Exercise More and Eat Less, Simple Right?

Not So Fast!

You may have heard the dated expression to exercise more and eat less to lose weight. This might seem like sound advice but it’s just not that straightforward. For the couch potato living a sedentary lifestyle doing no exercise at all, then yes it could work. But only for a short period of time as our bodies adapt, specifically our metabolism. During periods of extended eating less your body will get hungrier, energy levels drop and you get cravings. The same happens when you exercise harder, longer or add more training sessions to your schedule.

Your body wants to stay at the same point, this is called homeostasis. When you decide that you want to make a change to your energy balance like doing the above it pushes back. It will slow your metabolism to burn fewer calories. This is called adaptive thermogenesis and the caloric burn can decline by up to 25%.

The exercise more and eat less idea can spiral out of control. When your weight loss starts to slow down as the metabolism starts to adapt what do most people do? They decide to do even more exercise and eat less again until the scales start moving the way they want it. It’s a race to the bottom. You’ll be eating so little and trying to fuel too much training that you can’t perform optimally, your mood will be awful and illness/injury won’t be far behind.

Let Me Show You That Works

Using the calculator from my last post I input the details of a 30 year old female, who is 5′ 2″, weighs 11 stone/70kg and is sedentary. Her maintenance calories would be 1648. She wants to lose weight so she restricts her calories to 1200 per day and starts walking a couple times a week. She begins to lose weight for a few weeks but it then slows down. In an effort to keep it going she reduces calories again to less than a 1000 per day and begins running instead of walking, for a longer duration and more frequently. Weight loss begins again but it’s only a matter of time until it slows again. Do you think it’d be a good idea to reduce calories further? Have you seen how little 1200 calories worth of food is let alone less than a 1000? Good luck enjoying 3 meals and a snack or two spread over that many calories.

Check back later this week when I’ll explain a better way to lose weight and keep it off for good.

Just 4 Weeks To Go

The Next Gym Workout Is Almost Here

4 weeks from today gyms will finally, happily and thankfully reopen. I personally can’t wait to get back to working with my personal training clients after such a long time out. Summer would be almost upon us too if not for the rain on what seems like every day now. Generally this means a lot of you will be getting back to your gym training. You could be taking up training for the first time or just thinking about getting in better shape for summer weather. I wanted to say holidays but who knows what the hell that situation will look like! With that in mind I want to help you with quick, actionable information over the coming weeks. In doing so, hopefully pointing you in the right direction to better health and fitness. This week I’ll look at calories.

For the majority of people, getting in better shape means burning fat. Note that I said burning fat and not losing weight. Without going too far off topic right now, weight loss is pointless if it’s through water loss or worse, muscle loss. That tends to happen when average folks without any training or nutrition knowledge blindly cut out every carb they can think of (probably without also resistance training or consuming enough protein) because they heard that’s what their friend did before their wedding. Or they remember all the times they did that before to lose weight. They fail to realise that they regained the weight they lost as soon as they reintroduced carbs to their nutrition. This means they repeat the process over and over. You know what they say about madness…

To Burn Fat, You Need A Calorie Deficit

If you take away anything from these few short minutes of reading please let it be this. Don’t go zero carbs, zero fat or zero anything. Just don’t. If you want to know why you shouldn’t, I’d be happy to explain in another post but for now just take my word for it.

At the end of the day fat loss boils down to being in a calorie deficit. That is, burning more calories than you consume. Using the following quick and easy calculator will give you your maintenance calories per day or the calories you need to consume to stay the same weight.

From there you just consume a few hundred calories less than that maintenance number and theoretically you should burn fat. I say theoretically because there’s more to it than just that. Calorie consumption, absorption, digestion etc. are all different in each individual as well as calorie numbers on food labels being an average and well, you get the picture that this isn’t so simple. Hence the reason people hire a trainer like me to navigate the muddy waters and steer the ship in the right direction. Use the formula as a good starting point and track your progress for a couple weeks.