Tag Archives: fat loss

6 common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight

Working on a fitness makeover can be a lonesome time for some. My experience as a coach is that a lot of clients are almost ashamed to admit to their friends or colleagues that that’s what they are trying to do. So they tend to isolate themselves and keep their weight loss journey a secret for fear of failure and having to hear “I told you it wouldn’t work”.

There is a lot of conflicting information available on the subjects of fitness and weight loss and it’s very difficult to navigate through a myriad of journals, articles and blogs to decide what might be a good path to follow. I know, I have been there too.

The trick to getting a great ROI for your efforts is to find a protocol that is easy to jump into and that you can follow over a long period of time, turning it into a new set of healthier habits as opposed to a collection of remedies. There are many effective frameworks to choose from and really what works for one person might be disastrous for another one.

Regardless of which protocol you decide to follow and what’s right for you, if you want to be successful at shrinking a dress size (or three) you must be aware of a number of common mistakes that people make which can thwart their efforts. Avoid these and your chances of achieving your goals will skyrocket straight away.

This is what unsuccessful people typically do:

1 – They focus on losing weight

The figure you see on the scale can be extremely depressing if it’s not changing but in reality it’s probably the last thing you need to worry about. Female body builders and athletes are often tiny creatures that nevertheless weigh a tonne. Why? Because they are muscular, yet they can be so minute that you wonder if their legs would snap in strong winds. By the way, not everyone can reasonably expect to achieve this level of leanness but most people can get very close to it if they really want to.

The better strategy would be to focus on achieving an hourglass shape and measure your progress by taking measurements around your chest, waist and hips at regular time intervals. This change is an indication that your hormones and metabolism are in good balance and therefore you are losing fat which is far more important than losing weight. Especially when you start shedding the pounds of visceral fat, the nasty stuff that accumulates around your organs putting you at an increased risk of developing life threatening illnesses. So, don’t give the scale that much importance – focus on your health and the slimmer figure will soon follow.

2 – They go on a diet

When you cut back drastically on the calories or eliminate entire food groups from your plate you are asking for trouble. Your metabolism doesn’t work in a linear way and tends to be adaptive and reactive: whatever action you take, it answers back. Usually not in the way you want it to as its primary objective is to maintain the status quo. So you need to learn to play its game.

Although some would argue that when you first cut back on the calories you seem to lose both weight and circumference, after 4 to 10 days of low calories and zero carbs you will reach a plateau. Chicken and broccoli can be very nice… but not all day every day. To lose fat you do need to cut back on the calories a little bit but if you deprive yourself of all the foods that you like your willpower will soon get weak and you will start to crave cakes and chips. Eventually you will cave in and go on a binge, cry crocodile tears the next day and start the dieting process all over again. Never really going very far in your journey.

The better way of managing your food intake is to find the combination of macro nutrients (protein, carbs, fibre and fat) that you find satisfying and keeps you full for a good 4 – 5 hours, doesn’t make you dream about a pizza the size of the London Eye, gives you steady energy all day long and yet causes you to lose fat. Once you find your very own Holy Grail of macros you are in fat loss Heaven: you have discovered your unique formula and you are set for success. If you count the calories at this stage you will find that you are naturally consuming less without trying.

3 -They only do cardio

Cardio machines at gymHave you noticed how most chain gyms, on average, have 40 cardio machines and one chin-up bar? There’s a reason for it: most people on a crusade to atone for their indiscretions at the dinner table think that if they spend an hour or more on the treadmill every day they will wash away all their sins. The truth is that they are in fact most likely to make matters worse.

Cardiovascular exercise is awesome and should be a part of every exercise plan because it brings along many health benefits. However, when it comes to fat loss frequent long cardio sessions aren’t your best strategy if you want long lasting results. The reason for this is that long cardio sessions can be stressful to the body and cause cortisol levels to rise. Whereas this can be a good thing and can actually help you lose fat, too much of it can be detrimental and cause you to lose muscle as well as making you susceptible to accumulating belly fat. Not to mention that when we are stressed we tend to crave starchy foods…

Sure, if your body type tends towards endomorph you will benefit from long cardio sessions more than others but still, you could save yourself many hours of drudgery by switching some of your long distance cardio with High Intensity Interval Training plus resistance training. I know, I know… everyone keeps mentioning it… the reason being that it works. HIIT cardio saves you time because you only do it for a few minutes at the time. Resistance training doesn’t need to take up a lot of time either and it will help you build the muscles that will keep your metabolism running at a slightly elevated rate day and night.

4 – They use every machine at the gym during each session

The butterfly approach to resistance training usually stems from the individuals not knowing what they are doing. I see this often when I go to the gym: people doing 10 reps on each machine and then moving on to the next one in random order.

Even when they use the machines correctly they are missing out on an important factor when exercising for fat loss: overload. When you exercise a muscle group to the point of overload (i.e. when it burns so much that you want to curl up and cry) you are stimulating muscle growth. This is what will eventually give you the toned look that so many women want.

And ladies, don’t worry about looking like a man and growing a beard: you don’t have enough testosterone for that. The “bulky” effect that so many women worry about is usually temporary and it’s due to the subcutaneous fat laying on top of your muscles. You will shed this. As your muscles grow your metabolic rate at rest will increase slightly causing you to burn a little bit of fat 24/7. So if you want to succeed at shrinking dress sizes you really want to choose 4 or 5 resistance exercises for your session and focus on working those muscles until you burn like crazy. Whether you do full body workouts or split routines isolating specific muscle groups depends largely on which program you wish to follow and the results you wish to get. But in either case you want to work each muscle group hard. And then rest it.

5 – They don’t have a solid plan

This is not how you measure caloriesJust as you wouldn’t launch yourself into an entrepreneurial venture on the fly you wouldn’t want to start a weight loss project without a solid plan. This will include a time for researching and discovering how your metabolism works, a time to act on the outcomes of your research, a time to assess progress, adjust the course as necessary, more execution, more assessing, more adjusting and so on until you succeed.

As you get closer to achieving your goals you may want to start thinking about how you are going to maintain your results over time. This plan is perhaps more important than the first one as fat loss is more of a lifestyle than it is a fixed length journey. If you revert to your old habits the moment you hit the perfect size 8 you won’t remain there for long. Should you lose your inspiration half way through you need to read this post.

6 – They don’t get help from a mentor

As cheesy and cliche’ as this sounds, getting help from a mentor can speed up your results in dramatic ways. You know that’s true in your business so you must accept that it’s also true when it comes to fitness and fat loss. And yet so many people think they know it all and rely on YouTube videos to get fit only to end up concluding that “none of this malarkey” works some time down the road.

Choosing your mentor is a little bit like choosing a lifetime partner or a friend: you get along well naturally, you are on the same page most of the time, he or she can fill in the gaps in your knowledge and can explain things in a language that you understand, you respect each other, you feel comfortable calling them up for a chat if you have any doubts, they help you feel good about yourself AND they will help you cut through the fluff to make your transformational journey as linear as possible despite its non-linear nature. Believe me, it works.

So there you have it. The next time you decide that you want to lose weight and look toned remember this post and make sure to avoid points 1 to 5, go straight for number 6 and book a complimentary breakthrough call to make you sure you walk down the right part immediately and save yourself time, stress and money in the process.

M = Mindset [what SMART stands for]

Your mindset is the key to success. You will never see any fat loss program through to the end unless your head is in the right place. In fact, being in the wrong frame of mind will often prevent you from getting started altogether. This is, in my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles that a lot of people face in the beginning.

Let’s take my client and friend Lori for example. It’s not unusual for her to work long hours every day of the week doing mostly physical work. It’s a well paid job and she loves it but it takes a toll on her physique and her moods too as she seldom gets to spend quality time with her family in between work, cooking, house chores and sleeping. She is in her mid 40’s and she has been carrying a little bit of extra fat around the middle. Like most women do when they approach peri-menopause.

In the past she joined a weight loss group and lost a lot of weight but eventually gained it back with a little bit of vengeance and is now unhappy with both her weight and shape. Her body type is somewhere in between an ectomorph and a mesomorph and so the spare tyre round the middle is even more prominent as her limbs are long and slim.

Whenever we meet she talks about “going on a diet”. She is not happy about the prospect of dieting as she sees this as a period of time in which she will have to make sacrifices and give up all the foods she loves in order to lose 10Kgs in time for her Summer holidays. Because she hasn’t quite set her mind on a date when the dieting is going to start she is making sure to fill up on large portions of all the comfort foods she can find: fish and chips, pies, mash potatoes, beans, jacket potatoes drowned in butter, sausage rolls, etc. not to mention cakes and chocolates and the occasional glass of wine.

The point here is that this “giving things up” is only meant to be temporary, until she has had her holiday and then she is most likely get back to her old habits. Because in her mind the sacrifices have to end once the reward has been obtained.

My other client Carol has instead rejected the “dieting mindset” altogether. In order to get the results she wanted and keep them over time she accepted that she had to embrace change and create a new way of doing things for the rest of her life. Not radical changes, just a few tweaks to her meals here and there with a view of including all of her favourite foods on a regular basis but in moderation. In fact, over time, she stopped wanting her “favourite” foods which were high in carbs and saturated fats and instead elected more fat loss friendly foods as her new “favourites”.

With regards to exercise she started off wanting to do this 3 times per week but soon discovered that it was hard and stressful to fit 3 workouts around her existing commitments and so she settled on two sessions per week that she could easily find the time for. This allowed her to remain consistent with her efforts thus reaping the rewards in the form of a different shape and the slow but progressive release of fat from the more stubborn areas.

As time went on she was able to sustain her new habits knowing that if she “slipped” from time to time, like she might do at Christmas, she would soon be able to go back to her routine and lose all the festive plumpness in a fairly short time. The compliments started to pour in fairly soon and she became even more inspired to stay the course.

Do you see the difference in the mindset? One client is dreading getting started because of the perceived sacrifices she will have to make whereas the other one was willing to learn how to read her own metabolism and embrace the changes that worked for her. Not what the latest fitness fad says she should do.

Needless to say Lori has been having frequent guilt trips every time she has a slice of cake or an extra portion of chips, whereas Carol can’t really be bothered to have either but if she does she enjoys the cake or the chips knowing that she will be able to use them to her advantage.

How we turned Lori’s story around

Attitude Aptitude Altitude


The first step was to take a good look at Lori’s weekly schedule to determine just how much walking and lifting she did during the course of her work. The answer was mildly shocking: it turned out that she was on the move all the time and constantly lifting and carrying moderate weights over short distances. This was great news in a way because movement is actually more beneficial than structured exercise for your health and wellbeing BUT too much of it will start causing issues with rising levels of cortisol resulting in increased belly fat. The same goes for adding exercise to a lot of movement.

We decided that we would skip the exercise altogether for the time being and we focused on slowing down the pace a little bit at work by changing from a fast walk to a normal walk. We then tried to create a good sleeping routine as this was an area that she struggled with somewhat. We found a good time to go to bed every night and eliminated any stimulants for up to 3 hours before bed time: no coffee, no wine, no tea, no chocolate, no tablets or electronics.

This worked relatively well but she found that her mind was often racing when she first lay down in bed and this meant a lot of tossing and turning before she could fall asleep. So we went back to the drawing board and found that for her the best thing to do was to have a little bit of wine half an hour prior to bed. Although this wouldn’t be a good policy for some it worked brilliantly for her: not only she could almost fall asleep on command, she would also stay asleep waking up feeling rested and refreshed.

In addition to “fixing” her sleep we tried to find times throughout her day in which she could relax by perhaps adding 5 minutes to her bath or just chilling with her family. She started to benefit from these small changes fairly quickly. Before we even looked at her diet she already lost a little bit of fat all over but especially around her midsection. Nothing dramatic but a good step in the right direction AND she loved it. Most importantly she felt that so far she didn’t give anything up and instead gained in relaxation and downtime. Win.


Once we established the new routine we started to look at her diet to see where we could introduce changes that would support her fat loss efforts. Her problem was the large amount of foods combining fats and starches that she was consuming on a weekly basis. This was both because she loved them and because they were convenient as she often bought them ready made from the grocery store and only needed reheating.

The first change was to replace some of the starchy foods with fresh non-starchy produce. She was game so for a couple of weeks she made herself bring a salad to work instead of a pastie. We left the option open for her to have starches for dinner but bearing in mind the glass of wine before bedtime (this counts as carbs). After the first two weeks she found that she didn’t really fancy anything other than the meat + salad for lunch as this was keeping her full and feeling better than when she ate convenience foods. Plus she became very creative with the mix of veggies that she used by treating her salad almost like a work of art with lots of different colours and textures. She also learned how to make dressings that were both interesting and flavoursome without adding too many calories from either sugar or fats.

At this point the results really started to show. Her skinny jeans became baggy around her hips and thighs and the muffin tops were soon gone. Most importantly, again, she felt that she gained from the changes instead of losing out. Win.


As soon as she abandoned her dieting mentality she was able maintain her new shape and size and to help her get a little bit more toned before her holiday we introduced some exercise. But not all in the form of workouts… because she had very little spare time available we decided to make the most of her work at the warehouse. We agreed that every time she picked something up or drop something on a pallet she would do a squat to get to the right height and then, when possible, she would do a biceps curl to lift the object close to her chest and then reverse the movement.

Squats are a great compound exercise and can strengthen your legs, glutes and core muscles simultaneously. When you learn to do them correctly and to apply them to everyday situations you will find that lifting heavy objects becomes a lot easier and you won’t tire out so quickly. Lori found this change also easy to implement and whereas she managed to do a few squats here and there at first, she was soon able to turn this into her normal way of lifting things.

At this point we introduced workouts at home too but these only consisted of doing a few push-ups and planks a couple of times per week to make sure her upper body also looked a bit more muscular. These exercise sessions would only take up 10 minutes of her time so she found it easy to stick to them. As she got closer to the start of her holiday she was delighted with the results and still surprised that she went through a complete body transformation without dreading the process or feeling like she had to make sacrifices.

As you can see it’s as simple as changing your perspective about nutrition and exercise to make the experience more interesting and certainly not one to fear. Once my clients get over this initial hurdle and make the mental switch they begin to enjoy the process of change knowing that they will achieve and often surpass their initial goals.

If you are stuck and can’t find your way out of the dieting mentality book a 30 min. complimentary breakthrough call and I’ll gladly give you a few pointers.

S = Sexy Size [what SMART stands for]

The name SMART Fitness Makeover came about during a conversation that I had with one of my past marketing coaches. We were bouncing ideas back and forth during a re-branding effort and in the end we settled on SMART as it was the perfect acronym for all the things that my approach to fitness and weight loss stands for and also an acronym that is well known in goals setting circles. Amazingly I managed to blog regularly for almost two years without ever talking about it… so time to correct this!

Let’s start with the first letter: S = sexy size.

We all have one in our mind and it’s different for each and every one of us. The common denominator here is the idea that when we reach our “sexy size” is when we feel most powerful and truly capable of taking over the world. Regardless of age, experience and circumstances. Our sexy size might be the result of a combination of personal taste as well as influences from the media and the culture that we live in and it’s very, very personal.

Some people feel more powerful when they are super lean, others prefer voluptuous curves and others still prefer a muscular shape regardless of their body types. So in reality S also stands for “sexy shape” and part of my work is helping women achieve both the size and shape that will make them appear most attractive to both sexes.

This is what most of my clients want. Even when they don’t articulate it in this way being and feeling attractive is the transformation that they are looking for. But they call it “can you help me lose some weight here?”. I have yet to come across a client who was disappointed by the compliments they received from friends, family and colleagues as they worked through their own body transformation and the changes started to show. Not just as a smaller version of themselves but as a slightly different shape too.

The only exception to this, of course, is clients who come to me because they need help managing health conditions that can be improved with lifestyle changes that include nutrition and exercise but eventually, when they realise what’s possible, they also start to think about the way they look.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look your best. Never.

We are visual creatures and whether we care to admit it or not we react differently to others based on how they present themselves. One of my favourite experiences of this was the time when I was buying building materials to make a step outside my front door. I went to the local building merchant to do a preliminary reconnaissance round and enquire about materials. I was wearing my stables gear consisting of an ugly collection of baggy garments that are great for dealing with mud and straw but do nothing for looks and fashion. The shop assistants barely looked at me and were very curt with their advice but gave me all the info I needed. So when I had all the measurements and I was ready to make a purchase I went back wearing a red outfit that highlighted my “slightly curvy” figure (as my stylist calls it). All the shop assistants came over to have a chat and eventually loaded my car with all the bricks and mortar despite being the client who made the smallest purchase of that entire year.

The thing is our brains are hard wired to be on the lookout for the perfect mating partner and our shape and sizes are indicators of our suitability for that task that we recognise instinctively, before we start taking into account personality traits.
There has been a lot of research carried out in the field of male and female attractiveness. It turns out that the female shape that both genders find attractive is the hourglass figure, that is when chest and hips have similar circumferences and the waist is noticeably smaller. If you divide your waist circumference by your chest and then hips circumference the ideal figure would be somewhere between 0.67 and 0.8 with 0.7 being perceived as the most attractive across cultures. However, studies also showed that both genders tended to consider women with an hourglass figure more attractive if they were also reasonably lean, whereas those with curves but overweight weren’t considered to be as attractive as their leaner counterparts. You can read one of such studies here.

Personally I disagree with some of the findings as there are some voluptuous women who look totally gorgeous even if they tip the BMI scale in the wrong direction. I believe that whereas our instincts drive us to rely on first impressions to decide if someone is attractive to us or not, it’s our ability to discern qualities such as personality style that truly makes the difference. Look at the woman in the picture on the right and tell me she is not attractive.

The way you can get close to achieving the ideal body shape is by addressing your health first and specifically your hormonal balance. This will determine your unique tendency to store fat in certain parts of your body as well as the ability to lose it. For most women fat tends to accumulate more in the lower body: abdomen, hips, bottom and thighs. These are also the areas that they struggle to slim down the most. However that’s not always the case. There are plenty of women who have heavy torsos and slim legs giving them a more masculine shape rather than a feminine one.

The next step is to identify lifestyle and nutrition changes that will support your fat loss efforts. Sleeping patterns, stress both physical and emotional, a sedentary job… all play a part into promoting or affecting your health and body composition. Finally you will need to come up with an exercise plan that will help you build the lovely body that your fat loss efforts will reveal in time.

This combined approach will help you move closer towards the shape and size that is somewhere in between what science has proven to be most appreciated and what you consider to be ideal for you. There is no point in working your arse off for months to achieve the perfect 0.7 hourglass figure and body fat % if you don’t like what you see in the mirror. What makes you feel most empowered always comes first. Exuding this type of confidence is what feeling good in your skin is all about and what I wish to help my clients achieve.

So there… that’s what S also stands for: Supreme Confidence. But also S = Schedule…

If you are stuck and need some guidance in formulating your ideal plan or even deciding what your ideal size and shape are I can help you. Just Schedule a complimentary breakthrough call with me so that we can talk strategy and if we are a good fit we can become a team!

How to get fit (and stay that way) when you are super busy

I am always a little bit sad when Summer ends because I love the longer hours of daylight, the warmer temperatures, sleeping with all the windows wide open and finding excuses for spending time outdoors. Most importantly, I can upgrade my back garden to outdoors exercise area where I can enjoy a lot more space and plenty of fresh air. Clients are usually on holiday and so I get to slow down too for a short while.

When Autumn starts life gets busy on all fronts again. Not just for me but for my clients too. For many of them the end of the year coincides with the end of their financial year and suddenly work brings a whole new dimension of busy-ness to their already packed lives. When I worked in corporate many years ago, from September onward I knew I would start at my job around  9am but I never knew when I would come home. Not only I had my usual tasks to deal with but heading towards the “festive season” meant more business lunches, more networking events, more parties and so on. I know, it sounds like such a hard life (not!) but believe me, having to kiss arse and get drunk in order not to disappoint clients can take a significant toll on you and your waistline in the long run.

At the time I used to exercise in the evenings as I am a bit of a night owl but from September onwards it became virtually impossible to stick to a regular routine. Nowadays I witness the same issues with some of my clients who are often forced to cancel or reschedule their evening sessions at short notice.

The only way that you get visible and long lasting results when you follow a weight loss and fitness program is if you are consistent with your efforts. It’s not different from running a business or working for one. In fact I look at my fitness regime as one part of the “business of me”: it has to provide the results I want and be enjoyable, in fact make that exciting. This helps me re-frame fitness as something that is vitally important to my own success both as an entrepreneur and as an individual striving to maintain optimum physical and mental health.

How to manage your nutrition when everyone else isn’t

Eating healthy when everyone else isn'tThe first step is always to (re)define your goals and be realistic about them. For example, if you know that you are coming up to an extremely busy few months with plenty of social events that you can’t get out of it might not be the best time to start working on your beach body. Unless of course the people you have to hang out with are also following a fat burning program and won’t mind discussing business over a rocket salad and a glass of still mineral water. It can be really difficult to stick to your meal plans when you are under a bit of peer pressure to have a few drinks and a curry.

So if that’s the case why not allow yourself a bit of slack and revise your goals from going to the gym for weight loss to maintenance/damage limitation with perhaps a bit of slow progress as a bonus instead? You can still achieve a lot, you just have to make the most of the change in circumstances and go with the flow.

I successfully used two strategies for my clients (and myself) to sail through busy times without any damages to the waistline. The first strategy is to alternate binge meeting and eating with fasting, i.e. have as many meetings as you can to include both lunch and dinner in one day followed by a day of fasting. The second strategy consisted of spreading out the meetings as much as possible and use the extra dinners or lunches as part of an intermittent fasting program. The ultimate goal here is to try and break even with calories in vs calories out with a little bit of extra help in the form of more movement and exercise when necessary.

The thing is if you book a table at a restaurant that’s nowhere near a tube station or bus stop you will have to walk there and back. It’s always nice to do this after a large meal and it will help you sober up slightly if you have had one too many. I speak from experience. …hic!

It takes a lot of commitment to yourself and your goals to stick to either strategy but if your health and fitness are important to you you will always find a way. Otherwise you will find excuses masqueraded as reasons. Again no different than running a business.

How to exercise consistently in the face of busy-ness

Internet wisdom suggests that abs are made in the kitchen. I disagree. Abs are made in the gym and are revealed by wise use of your time and energy in the kitchen. If you can’t do the latter you must make sure you are at least focusing on the former for the time being.

The thing is in order to achieve the perfect beach body (I am already thinking about next Summer here…) you have to build the physique and that requires consistent effort with your exercise. When you are super busy there is no need to get all complicated, you can save that for later when you have an easier schedule and you need to put the finishing touches to the solid foundations you have built. But, again, it’s important to make the time for it.

the best workout for weight loss is the one you do, not the one you think about.The solution is super easy. You need to have strong boundaries with yourself first and your co-workers and bosses second, but you must make a point of not starting work earlier than your contract says unless extreme circumstances arise. This is an important part of achieving a healthy work-life balance: if you know your finishing time is a vanishing time you might as well start when you are supposed to and not a minute sooner.

This gives you room to get up 30 minutes earlier than normal in the morning and stick in a quick 20 min. metabolic workout that as well as keeping your physique in tip top condition will also give you a little bit of extra energy for the day. There are many good ways to exercise at home with or without equipment: it depends on your personal preferences and what you are trying to achieve.

I had a few clients in the past who used this strategy very successfully: they would see me at the crack of dawn to check in on their progress since my last visit and then put in a jolly good workout before going to the office. They got energised in the fresh air and started their day with a spring in their steps and their renewed confidence helped them make strides in their careers. Personally I hate getting up early in the morning but when I had to I soon learned to love the feeling that I got after a good workout and in fact I ended up getting up even earlier to do some extra work too.

You don’t have to do anything fancy (but you can if you want to), if you stick with a few basic exercises focusing on form rather than reps or personal bests you can reinforce your neuro-muscular connections. This will ensure that your body is ready for muscle growth and increased strength. If you do this right you will get that sweet feeling of your metabolism burning fat all day long, making you feel a bit warmer and almost buzzing with extra energy. Your mind will be sharper and you will feel and look stronger giving you the edge in the business environment where presenting your ideas with confidence can make or break a career.

If all you can do is work out for 20 min 3 times per week you will still get results and in fact you will be amazed at how remarkable these will be. Then when life allows it again you can go back to being more thorough with your fitness training program but that’s an article for another day.

In the meantime if you would like some help finding the best way to get fit and lose weight through your busiest times with ease and grace book a complimentary breakthrough call now and let’s define some goals. Without obligation but with a lot of enthusiasm.

P.S. If you are reading this article in the run up to Christmas you may want to check out my book “Burn fat, not the turkey” offering tips and tricks for navigating the holiday season in style whilst simultaneously avoiding crocodile tears on January 2nd.


4 Simple Steps to Win Your Day. Every Day. [Infographic]

I am in the very fortunate position of being able to wake up naturally a lot of the time and only having to set the alarm clock some of the time. Even so Mondays can be difficult as they mean leaving behind the chilled pace of the weekend and getting ready to face whatever challenges life will bring as the week unfolds.

I find solace in setting up the alarm clock 30 minutes before the time I actually want to get up to make sure I start the day with some me time to set myself up for success. No matter what. Here is how I do it:

4 simple steps to win your day infographic

Good quality sleep

It may seem as if I am stating the obvious but you cannot expect to win the day without struggle unless you have fully recharged your batteries with a few hours of good quality sleep. How many hours you actually need depends on your unique metabolism, however there seems to be a general consensus that less than 5 hours is not enough sleep and over 10 hours is too much sleep. Again, this also depends on your personal circumstances as if you happen to be sleep deprived for any reason you will certainly need to give yourself the time to make up for the lost sleeping time.

While you are asleep your body repairs itself, gets rid of toxins, tunes down the release of fat storing hormones and turns up the release of fat burning and rejuvenating hormones. I have over simplified an exquisitely complex chain of chemical reactions but it’s enough to give you a good idea of why good quality sleep is so important. Think of how dangerous you are at the wheel when you are tired and how hungry you get when you don’t sleep enough. How can you be a winner when you are in that state?

Practice gratitude

The idea of recognising everything that we can be grateful for seems to be a common thread in any coaching circle under the sun. There is a good reason for it: as we get caught up in the rat race of thinking we have it bad because we don’t have this or that we forget about all the things that we actually have. Therefore getting in the habit of spending a few moments first thing in the morning to reflect on all the good things in our life and express heartfelt gratitude for them is a sure way to get into a good mood before we part company with our duvet.

In fact, it might be the only way that we can feel inspired to get out of bed. Especially when times are tough. And if the only good thing going on in your life is that you are still breathing be grateful for that as you never know when your luck is going to change.

Visualise your day

After you have practiced gratitude and you are in a light and happy mood it’s time to start visualising your day. The idea is to do a practice run in your head before you live your day for real. Athletes and performance artists do this all the time: they prepare for their performances by rehearsing their moves or words in their heads. It’s a great way of overcoming training obstacles and plateaus of any kind.

The secret is to get into as much detail as possible as you do this: what you are going to have for breakfast, how much coffee, what you are going to wear, what you are going to say at that meeting, how are you going to finish that project, what you are going to buy at the shops on the way back from work, what you are going to have for dinner, are you going to exercise? what are you going to watch on tv and what time you are going to bed. It’s like having a to do list in your mind: once it’s compiled all you have to do is go tick every item as you go along.

Planning your day in this way will save you from stress and overwhelm later on as you will have a clearer direction. You can apply this same principle to your weight loss and fitness journey: visualize the end result that you want to achieve and reverse engineer the process of getting there.

Morning rituals

I find morning rituals comforting. They are a part of my daily plan and I try to stick to them almost every day. They allow me that little bit extra mental space at the start of the day when I can make peace with the world and gradually transition from half asleep to fully awake. The first of my morning rituals is feeding the cats. I have no real choice in this matter as the punishment for not obliging is many paws on my face with gradually increasing degrees of clawing.

Then comes breakfast with copious amounts of coffee, then a quick tidying up of the house, wash, dress and then I am ready for my day. I suppose I could call this a “routine” but I find that the word “rituals” infers that these tasks are sacred to me and that nobody should interfere with them. If I am working on my own body transformation I might include a bit of time spent on the stationery bike or hula hooping as part of my morning ritual so it’s done and I don’t have to worry about it anymore. Otherwise I am ready to put into practice everything that I rehearsed while visualising my day.

Personally I find that whenever I stick to these 4 steps I come out a winner at the end of the day and feel like celebrating, no matter how small that win was. The thing is when I feel like I am winning at the game of life I tend to make better decisions which in turn leads to more victories big and small. So, now I am curious… what do you do to set yourself up for victory every day?

Need help with setting yourself up for victory? Book your complimentary breakthrough call using the little popup on the right and let’s give this a go! 

Q. Do I have to workout for hours every day to lose weight? A. No. Maybe. It depends.

Does the prospect of a mammoth workout make you cringe and act as an instant put off from even considering structured exercise?

I agree. I would be put off too. Especially by my vague answer…  😉

The thing is a vague answer is the only answer to this type of question if asked in these terms. And it’s a question that the majority of prospective new clients ask me when we first meet because there is a lot of confusion around this subject.

Here’s the thing…

If you have been reading my blogs for a while (thank you) you know that I do my research before writing a new post. I could regurgitate things that I heard or read here and there but I prefer to look for the latest scientific studies to see how our understanding of human physiology is evolving over time with new discoveries and what these mean for myself as a coach and for my clients. When I looked for research papers on “the ideal length of workouts” I couldn’t find anything specific that gave me a definitive answer. I then looked up other blogs from people with a different experience from my own and found that they more or less fall into 2 categories: those who base their opinion on a study conducted in Eastern Europe on Olympic athletes and those who say the results of that study are rubbish.

So I decided that, on this occasion, I will answer this question from my own experience both as an athlete and as a trainer and ignore the science. Here we go!

Choose your exercise program wisely

How long should I workout every day in order to lose weight?

It really depends on you, your preferences, your likes and dislikes, your likelihood to stick with your exercise program, your physiology, your lifestyle, your patience, your enthusiasm, your willingness to push boundaries, your habits, your determination to see results, your desired timescale to produce those results in. And so on…

Let’s start with the mindset

In my experience it’s impossible to decide how long you should workout for until a clear goal has been set. This includes knowing what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve it by. The next step is establishing how badly you want it and whether you are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve it or not. There are different styles of workouts: some are more intense than others and will produce results at different rates. Knowing how far you are prepared to go will point you in the right direction.

Next you need to take a look at your lifestyle: how much time do you think you have to exercise vs. how much time do you actually have vs. how much time you are honestly willing to spend exercising. The keywords here are “honestly willing” and it’s usually this amount of time that I take into account when I design exercise programs for my clients who want to lose weight or sculpt their bodies. I say usually because if the answer is 30 seconds we are moving into Harry Potter territory to get a full on body transformation. I don’t do that.

doubtThe majority of clients I worked with over the years have come to me as reluctant exercisers who needed a hand in finding the motivation to get started and then to keep going. In these instances it’s necessary for me as a coach to devise exercise programs that have the correct intensity and duration for the individual. First of all I want my clients to get results in a timely manner but most importantly I want them to be relaxed about the idea of working out otherwise they will never stick with it. On a number of occasions even the clients who were against exercising to begin with learned to enjoy it and went on to take up a sport or signed up for classes to make the most of their newfound vitality.

Now let’s look at the physical stuff

Once you have established goals and mental attitude towards working out you need to start making considerations about your physical aptitude. Assuming there are no injuries or medical conditions to take into account it goes like this:

Fit woman with boxing glovesHow fit are you at this moment in time? Regardless of your goals acknowledging your current fitness level is the primary factor in deciding how long you are going to be working out for. If you are new to structured exercise or haven’t done it in a while you may want to consider starting off with a few minutes at the time focusing on learning the techniques rather than going for it. It’s the same idea behind gradually building up to running 5 km from couch potato: you do it very gradually but progressively.

How quickly can you improve your fitness levels? Depending on your natural predisposition you might be one of those people that can increase their fitness levels quickly or you may not. You would adjust the time spent working out accordingly, I am not going to discuss intensity or volume here, but it goes without saying that these need to be increased gradually too.

How long does it take to reach your peak performance window during a workout? Another factor that’s very important in my opinion is how long it takes to reach what I call the “peak performance window” by which I mean the length of time that you can workout with correct form after the warm up and before exhaustion sets in. It’s different for everyone and because of it sometimes a good workout needs to be cut short to prevent an injury.

That’s great info but how do I put it into practice?

Blackboard: make things happen!

In my experience the best way to put all this into practice is this:

  1.  Choose a length of time that you are willing to dedicate to exercising on a regular basis throughout the week. For me, at this moment in time, is 30 min 3 times per week at home including warm up, working out and a cool down. I find this length of time easy to manage most weeks so I can stick with it no matter what. If I want to crank it up to get more dramatic results I will head to the gym and add a 20 min HIIT cardio session at the end of the workout before the cool down. Somehow I always end up spending a lot of time at the gym plus the time it takes me to get there and back so for me it’s not always easy or practical to maintain this schedule.
  2.  Choose which muscle groups you are going to focus on with each workout. If you know that you struggle with keeping your schedule it will be best for you to focus on full body workouts every time, at least you know that most muscle groups will be targeted at least once. If you are in a position where sticking to your schedule is easy then it might be best to target different muscle groups in each workout so that you can hit them harder and then rest them longer.
  3.  Incorporate periods of rest within your workouts. This will allow you to work in accordance with your current fitness levels while giving you room to increase the volume and intensity further on. For example: if you are very unfit you might run out of steam after a few reps of each exercise. That’s fine. Just take all the rest you need to be able to get back to your exercise with splendid form. You are not racing against anyone and you are building a different body one rep at the time. Make each one of them count.
  4.  Always listen to your body. There is no prize to be won by completing your workout when every cell in your body is begging you to stop. We all have days in which the strength is just not there, nor the interest, nor the inspiration. Applaud yourself for being disciplined enough to sticking to your schedule and showing up but don’t be afraid to walk away if it means preventing an injury. You will soon be back to top form and ready to go again.
  5. Get plenty of rest after each workout. Again, it might seem like an obvious thing to say but… do make sure that you rest until fully recovered after each workout. You can speed this process up with accurate nutrition timing but please don’t overlook this aspect of a good exercise schedule. Changes to your body happen while you rest so no skipping this!

So there you have it. As always, do what works best for you. As long as you are consistent and persistent the results will come. If you need help with this give us a holler via the popup bottom right of the screen.


A berry easy way to enjoy a delicious treat packed with many health benefits

There are many things that make the prospect of Summer getting closer alluring. Food-wise I believe one of the biggest anticipations is finally being able to eat fresh berries. And I mean literally just picked off the plants, fresh, scented, juicy. Perhaps accompanied by a Strawberries and champagne in a Martini glassglass of Champagne whilst sitting outside under a canopy of trees. Who else is salivating already?

But wait! Isn’t fruit a big no-no when it comes to fat loss?

Au contraire, in my opinion nothing is truly off-limits. Some things are perhaps more likely to hinder your progress, others can be downright destructive if you are intolerant or allergic to them but fruit offers plenty of benefits as well as providing us with a bit of healthy sweetness.

My personal experience is that once I got my shit together and sorted my nutrition out by going organic most of the time and buying from local farmers some of the time, I was once again able to enjoy the true flavour of cherries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries in its full intensity. It’s amazing how sweet real fruit can be once you wean yourself off from pre-fab foods.

It’s not just the flavour that you should go for though, there are also many health benefits in eating berries on a regular basis.


Cupped hands holding a bunch of freshly picked strawberries

Research recently carried out into why strawberries are good for humans1 showed that they are a rich source of micronutrients and phytochemicals such as α-carotene, vitamin C and phenolic compounds. Because of this they have shown to have antioxidant properties, can help in preventing cancer (or at least slow down its progress) and assist with the correct function of the immune system.

In order to establish how many of the beneficial compounds were available to us a small group of healthy individuals were made to consume “acute quantities (300g)” of fresh and stored (refrigerated for 4 days) strawberries obtained from a local grower and then blood tests were carried out. Of particular importance was to establish what difference eating fresh vs. stored strawberries would make to the bio-availability to humans of the many phytochemicals, after all it had been previously proven that storage methods can indeed have an influence on nutrients’ absorption but also on the chemical structure of produce.

Surprisingly (but also yay!) the blood tests carried out over a period of hours showed that there were minimal differences in the levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin E between fresh and stored strawberries, with the only significant difference shown in the levels of Vitamin C after consumption of stored strawberries. Levels of α-carotene were higher after eating fresh produce whilst antioxidant compounds didn’t show any significant results.

The takeaway from this experiment is that yes, storage methods can have an impact on the bio-availability of nutrients from fruit but that it’s so minimal that we really shouldn’t worry too much about it as long as the fruit is refrigerated immediately after harvest and consumed within 4 days. In fact, researchers have hinted that it’s the process of deterioration of the fruit that can possibly make some of the beneficial compounds more easily processed by our bodies.


A bowl of frozen berries

© SMART Fitness Makeover, MMXVI

Well, berry flavonoids and their health benefits for humans seem to have been the subject of many research papers. Women seem to have a particular interest in berries and have increased their consumption on the basis that they might help them cope with menopausal symptoms. Studies have demonstrated that post-menopausal women who consumed berries at least once a week over a 16 year period of time had a remarkably lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

From the data currently available2 it seems that berries have indeed beneficial effects, albeit moderate, on cardiovascular health, “bad cholesterol” levels, free radicals and weight loss. They appear to inhibit the expression of the inflammation gene and are helpful in the prevention of oesophageal cancer. The reasons for this effect are multiple: like strawberries other berries are also rich in polyphenols, flavonoids, vitamins A, E and C, carotene, selenium and folic acid. “Berry anthocyanins also improve neuronal and cognitive brain functions, eyes health as well as protect genomic DNA integrity4″. The bio-availability of these compounds unfortunately isn’t great and they tend to be concentrated in the skin of the fruits.

Berries are low in calories (approx. 40KCal/100g) and contain modest amounts of fibre which is always a bonus especially when on a calorie controlled programme. Of particular interest to me is the fact that berries, like chocolate, contain catechins which can support muscle growth when performing regular resistance training.

If all this wasn’t a good enough reason to regularly include berries in our diet researchers have found that “specific berries, such as bilberry and black currant extracts, chokeberry juice, cranberry extracts, and freeze-dried strawberries were shown to have favorable effects on plasma glucose or lipid profiles in subjects with metabolic risk factors including type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, or metabolic syndrome”3. Blueberries have been shown to be useful in improving insulin resistance.

The consensus among researchers seems to be that it’s best to eat berries either fresh or frozen when all their nutritional compounds are still intact. In the Summer it’s really easy to eat them straight out of the punnet they tend to come in. The rest of the year we can still enjoy them frozen.

I like to use mixed berries for my post-workout recovery shakes: I add 1 scoop of unflavoured whey protein powder to a mug with 1.5 scoops of raw cocoa powder, 2 grams of cinnamon extract and 1 cup of frozen mix berries from the local supermarket. Sometimes I mix the ingredient with mineral water, other times with coconut milk and then I blitz them until I have a thick but frothy shake and enjoy it as if it was a dessert. In fact, in the rare occasions when the temperature raises above 25ºC I might even turn this into a sorbet.

Had I not ripped out all the strawberry plants in my back garden mistaking them from weeds I would be repeating these experiment every year with my own crops. Especially the bit in which I have to consume berries in acute quantities like a whole punnet every day (but skipping the blood test bit). Instead I am forced to resort to some of the local growers who kindly sell their produce every fortnight at the local Farmers’ Market and eat them in moderation to make it cost effective.

I love all berries but I think if I really had to choose a favourite it would have to be strawberries. What about you?

1 – E. Azzini et al. , “Absorption of strawberry phytochemicals and antioxidant status changes in humans”, Journal of Berry Research 1 (2010) 81–89, DOI:10.3233/BR-2010-009
2 – Huntley, A.L. “The health benefits of berry flavonoids for menopausal women: cardiovascular disease, cancer and cognition.”, Maturitas (2009), DOI: http://www.maturitas.org/article/S0378-5122(09)00174-1/fulltext
3 – Basu, A et al., “Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health”, Nutr Rev. Author manuscript; PMCID: PMC3068482
4 – Zafra-Stone, S. et al., “Berry anthocyanins as novel antioxidants in human health and disease prevention”, Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 2007, 51, 675 – 683 DOI 10.1002/mnfr.200700002

Chocolate to help you lose weight? Yes please! ♥

You will be pleased to know that chocolate is indeed good for you… or, more precisely, I am just about to reveal some of the wonderful array of raw cocoa powder benefits.

First of all it’s important to distinguish between pure unsweetened cacao powder made from roasted and crushed cocoa beans and chocolate which is made by combining cocoa powder, cocoa butter and anything else you find in a chocolate bar: milk, nuts, emulsifiers, soya lecithin, sugar, etc.

If chocolate is all that’s available then dark chocolate for health (the darker the better) is a better choice than any other type of chocolate.

In fact, when I was a child and was regularly hiking up and down the Italian Alps with my parents or the Summer school guys, we used to fill our rucksacks with dark chocolate bars which we would eat for energy all day long during the hardest and longest hikes.

On this occasion the cocoa butter in the chocolate was actually beneficial as we would spend all day at high altitudes and in all sorts of weather conditions. It made climbing some of the tallest mountains in Europe less painful and provided some soul cuddling every time I fell into a frozen lake seconds after being told not to jump on the ice…  RIP the days before the Healthy & Safety madness.

I digress. Apologies.

Luscious melted chocolate with nuts and pieces

Chocolate is a powerful hunger suppressant

The main reason that pure unsweetened raw cacao powder can help you lose weight is that it’s a very powerful tool to suppress hunger and cravings while on a restricted calories regime. There isn’t much of a way around this: in order to lose weight we must cut back on the calories that caused us to put it on in the first place (as well as paying attention to where those calories come from).

Until we have learned our unique nutrition formula cutting calories can lead us to become hungry in between meals and start craving all sorts of things that usually look like cakes, crisps, chips, pizza, ice cream and so on. If you are a woman reading this, you will also have to contend with the monthly fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone during your cycle and you will most likely be familiar with the “bottomless pit syndrome” that can happen as the progesterone levels drop off and you get closer to the end of the cycle leading to menstruation.

Heap of cocoa powderCocoa powder can help keep these urges under control. It does this by affecting a chemical compound called GLP-1, a hormone found predominantly in the intestines but also in different parts of the brain and is tasked with regulating food intake. It’s also involved in regulating the release of insulin into the bloodstream and has an action opposed to that of another hormone, ghrelin, responsible for feelings of hunger. 1

In addition to this, the bio-active compounds found in cocoa powder can help raise the levels of endorphines and dopamine making us feel happier and more relaxed. For this reason cocoa powder can be a natural anti-depressant helping us reduce anxiety and balancing our mood during times of stress.

Chocolate is a rich source of magnesium

But wait! There’s more…  😀

Unless you have lived in a world without social media lately you will have no doubt seen the many memes going round warning you about Magnesium deficiencies in the modern Western diet and how you should take this supplement and that supplement to make things ok. Well, as it turns out cocoa powder naturally contains high levels of Magnesium making it incredibly useful in modulating blood pressure, stabilizing your sleeping patterns and ensuring continued cardiovascular health. It also contains Copper which helps with oxygenation of the blood having a positive impact on preventing the onset of dementia.

Chocolate can help control cravings for starchy foods

Consuming raw unsweetened cocoa powder is an acquired taste but it is so effective at suppressing hunger and crazy cravings that it’s worth putting up with the bitter taste and finding a way of making it palatable without compromising its properties.

Whenever my hormones go on a rollercoaster ride leaving me hungry when I shouldn’t be (because I have been meticulous with my nutrition) I make myself a hot drink by mixing a heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder with some hot water, a few drops of vanilla extract and perhaps some cinnamon. I don’t like using sweeteners but if you do you could perhaps add some Stevia to it and/or some unsweetened almond milk.

I sometimes add half a scoop of pure whey protein powder or just BCAAs and I can be guaranteed to feel pleasantly full and chillaxed for a good few hours and certainly until my next meal. As well as making me more comfortable throughout the day it also means that I want to put less food on my plate because I am not starving.

Chocolate can help you build muscle, lose fat and slow down aging

One of the many nuisances associated with old age is the progressive loss of skeletal muscle (sarcopenia) and the increase in body fat. So far the best way of countering this process has been thought to be exercise, however this can be a problem for those who are suffering from other ailments or injuries that cause them to be less mobile.

For some strange reason there don’t seem to be many studies available on other ways of slowing down the onset of sarcopenia perhaps through the use of supplements or dietary changes. However, this might be about to change thanks to a “proof of concept” trial in humans 4 that suggests there is a way of reversing this aspect of aging in the older populations even without resistance training.

To explain sarcopenia in a very (very!) simplified manner you could say that there are two main modulators responsible for skeletal muscle growth: Myostatin and Follistatin. The former inhibits muscle growth and levels in the blood stream increase with age. The latter, instead suppresses the effects of Myostatin thus allowing continued muscle growth (including the heart), or at least less loss of it, well into old age (levels decrease with age).

The compound that affects the balance between Myostatins and Follistatins is one of the flavanoids contained in cocoa called (-)-epicatechin. A recent study carried out in Mexico on a very small number of human subjects has yielded encouraging results: by supplementing their diet over 7 days with a small quantity of pure (-)-epicatechin (less than 1mg/Kg of body weight per day) those receiving the supplement recorded an increase in bilateral hand grip strength of approx. 7% plus a favourable increase in the ratio of Follistatins vs. Myostatins of approx. 49% although the individual values were not reported. These results replicated previous findings on similar experiments carried out on mice and it was concluded that this is an area which warrants investing in further thorough research as the implications could be huge should a viable supplement with standardised levels of (-)-epicatechin be developed.

The active flavanol is naturally contained in raw cocoa and dark chocolate (but also in green tea!). Consuming moderate amounts of either product every day (30g) should be enough to encourage a small increase in Follistatins and therefore prevent too much muscle wastage as we get older, although we shouldn’t be tempted to go gung-ho in our quest for Myostatin suppression as this can cause brittle and weaker tendons and ligaments. So, as is often the case, moderation is the key until more research has been conducted on larger groups of human subjects and the side effects and contraindications of supplementing with (-)-epicatechins have investigated over long term.

All of the above is the reason why I include copious amounts of cocoa powder in my home made post workout recovery protein bars.

Where to find raw unsweetened cocoa powder?

One thing to watch out for is that many supermarkets don’t sell pure cocoa powder, the only one I have found so far that does is Tesco (according to the label) so make sure to read the box carefully before buying a product that says cocoa because it will almost certainly contain fillers and various additives. Your local health food store should be able to procure organic raw cacao powder though and of course there are loads of online retailers too.

How do you like taking your cocoa?

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1. Holst, J.J. – “The Physiology of Glucagon-like Peptide 1” (2007), Physiological Reviews

2. Hollenberg, N.K. & Fisher, N.D.L. “Is it the dark in dark chocolate?” (2007), American Heart Association

3. I. Andujar et al., “Cocoa polyphenols and their potential benefits for human health (PDF)” (2012), Hindawi Publishing Corporation

4. Gutierrez-Salmean G. et al., “Effects of (−)-epicatechin on molecular modulators of skeletal muscle growth and differentiation” (2014), J Nutr Biochem. 2014 Jan; 25(1): 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2013.09.007.

Cinnamon: your new BFF against love handles?

The internet and social media can be funny things. It seems that at some time or another a subject gets into the spotlight and everyone writes, or at least rewrites, about it. Cinnamon is not exempt from this and I still remember the flurry of memes and inspirational quotes about it plastered on every social media channel that I follow. According to some of these memes the humble Cinnamon is supposed to help us with weight loss by regulating insulin and on top of that it is said to have anti-aging properties. For totally selfish reasons I felt curious to find out more about this and reviewed a number of research papers reporting. This is what I found out.

First of all cinnamon is obtained from the bark of trees belonging to the Cinnamomum genus native to East Asia. There are several variations but they can be narrowed down to two sub-groups: CinnamomumVerum (aka “true cinnamon”) and Cinnamomum Cassia (the common spice sold in supermarkets all over the world). When the trees are harvested the stems must be processed immediately and the outer bark separated from the inner bark while it’s still wet. As the bark is drying naturally it starts to curl up and is eventually chopped into sticks and sold.

Cinnamon plantsAccording to a meta study carried out at the University of California in 2010(4) “Cinnamon is a rich botanical source of both Chromium and polyphenols that has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine and has been shown to affect blood glucose and insulin signaling”. High fasting blood glucose levels are a typical tell tale sign of Type 2 diabetes which is caused by poor insulin sensitivity.

Other studies have shown that the Verum genus is richer in beneficial nutrients than the more popular Cassia variety however the latter is richer in the compound coumarin that acts as a blood thinning agent akin to some stroke prevention drugs. For this reason, consumption of cinnamon in high doses is slightly concerning however, despite the lack of studies on the long-term effects of consuming cinnamon, this spice has been used by humans for thousands of years without any knowledge of any adverse effects.

Cinnamon extract powder in a small bowl with two cinnamon sticks

© MMXVI SMART Fitness Makeover

A study conducted on a small group of healthy human subjects(1) showed that after adding 3g of cinnamon to their daily diet cellular glucose uptake was increased whereas a long-term study of non-diabetic women with polycystic ovary syndrome showed a significant reduction in insulin resistance after taking 1 g cinnamon per day for 8 weeks before an oral-glucose-tolerance test was performed. A further study conducted in Pakistan(2) showed that by feeding 1g, 3g, and 6g of cinnamon daily for 40 days to a group of men and women with Type 2 diabetes resulted in lower levels of fasting glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol (the subjects of the study were receiving oral blood sugar lowering treatment). However the same results were not experienced by overweight, post menopausal women with Type 2 diabetes.

The conclusions of the meta study mentioned above(4) were that cinnamon whether used as a straight powder or as an extract does indeed seem to have a modest effect in lowering fasting blood glucose levels in individuals suffering from Type 2 diabetes. Surprisingly, this effect is comparable to that of the more famous drug metformin with cinnamon showing a slightly stronger effect overall.

At the point in time when the meta analysis was carried out there was still a fair bit to learn about the “why it worked” in the way it did. A study subsequently conducted in Japan(3) on live rats with Type 2 diabetes set out to investigate the mechanisms by which Cinnamon is effective on regulating blood sugar levels. For the purpose of the experiment the researchers prepared a Cinnamon Extract by boiling some Chinese Cinnamon sticks for 30 minutes. The study was successful in explaining the mechanisms that make cinnamon useful in managing Type 2 diabetes, however these are extremely complicated and unnecessary for the purpose of this blog (plus, admittedly, I barely understand them as I am not medically trained).

What to make of all this information?

The main issues with regards to all these studies on the effects of cinnamon on insulin management and levels of fasting blood glucose are that some have used natural cinnamon, others have used a cinnamon extract obtained in different ways, whereas others have used standardised extracts isolating the active components and nobody quite knows where the cinnamon came from in the first place or what genus was used, how it was dried, and so on. In some instances participants were already taking blood glucose lowering medications which makes it difficult to extrapolate any significant data as the medications may have well masked the effect of the natural product.

Finally, although there seems to be an almost unanimous agreement across most researchers that cinnamon does improve insulin sensitivity we must remember that most studies were carried out over a short period of time and on small numbers of human participants at any one time whose history of medications and lifestyle habits aren’t always described and taken into account. Even by “combining” the results as part of the meta study the sample is still minute and it’s therefore hard to know whether the same findings could really be applied to the World population at large.

Other interesting findings about the effects of cinnamon are that it appears to be beneficial in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and also in cases of ischemic stroke by blocking cell swelling(5).  Again, despite the lack of clarity in the materials available, it appears that nevertheless cinnamon is also useful in bringing about small improvements in body composition, with tackling metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

Should you have a go at using cinnamon or not?

In my opinion, if you suspect you may have insulin sensitivity issues you should consult a doctor to have blood tests done and not rely on a blog post to solve your doubts. Depending on the results, if they are normal and you suspect a bit of foul insulin play in your efforts to lose fat then it might be worth seeing if, over a period of time and with everything else remaining the same, cinnamon is the key to your fat loss success. The doses in the studies were between 1 and 6g of cinnamon/cinnamon extract. The best results were given by using 3g per day (which is a lot of cinnamon) taken with sugary foods. Higher doses haven’t shown a bigger effect so it’s best to stay on the safe side and not go over 3g. By the way, insulin resistance tends to show up as “love handles” so if you can’t bear the thought of taking regular measurements around key points on your body, pinch yourself around the hips from time to time to measure your progress. It’s not scientific nor accurate but it will give you a sense of whether anything is changing or not.

If, however your blood test results show that you are above the normal range and tending towards developing diabetes you must discuss your next step with your doctor. Bearing in mind that cinnamon has been proven to be as effective as metformin there is no harm in mentioning this to your GP or specialist. Chances are that if you are just borderline outside of normal he or she might agree to check your blood again in a couple of months time giving you the chance of adjusting your diet and lifestyle accordingly before prescribing you drugs. The time in between blood tests would be a good time to also experiment with cinnamon knowing that you will have tangible proof either way in a short period of time. Remember: the first study showed an improvement in fasting blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity after only 40 days.

Last, but certainly not least if you are also a bit vain, the same mechanisms that make cinnamon a valuable tool in maintaining our health also facilitate collagen biosynthesis(6) in our skin thus providing an important anti-aging service!

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  1. Hlebowicz J, et al. “Effects of 1 and 3 g cinnamon on gastric emptying, satiety, and postprandial blood glucose, insulin, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, glucagon-like peptide 1, and ghrelin concentrations in healthy subjects.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(3):815–821
  2. Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. “Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes Care 2003;26:3215–8
  3. Shen Y, Honma N, Kobayashi K, Jia LN, Hosono T, Shindo K, et al. (2014) “Cinnamon Extract Enhances Glucose Uptake in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes and C2C12 Myocytes by Inducing LKB1-AMP-Activated Protein Kinase Signaling.” PLoS ONE 9(2): e87894. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087894
  4. Paul A. Davis and Wallace Yokoyama. “Cinnamon Intake Lowers Fasting Blood Glucose: Meta-Analysis”, Journal of Medicinal Food. August 2011, 14(9): 884-889. doi:10.1089/jmf.2010.0180.
  5. Qin B, Panickar K and Anderson R.A. “Cinnamon: Potential Role in the Prevention of Insulin Resistance,
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Curtsy Lunges For Perfect Buns

Curtsy lunges are a variation of the ordinary forward or reverse lunges and are performed along a different plane by activating the inner thigh muscles to achieve the crossover movement. When performed correctly they will help you sculpt and tone your legs, hips and buns for that super hot look and the strength to match.

When you execute a curtsy lunge you engage 4 different muscle groups in your lower body:

    • quadriceps: front of your thighs, you use them to squat and stand up;
    • hamstrings: back of your thighs, you use them at the same time as the quadriceps;
    • gluteals: bun muscles, the curtsy lunge especially targets the muscles on the outside of your buttocks that are normally used to pull your leg towards your body;
    • soleus/gastrocnemius: calf muscles, in this exercise they act as stabilizers for your legs and you use them every time you push yourself back up into the starting position

Start by standing with your feet shoulders width apart. Cross your right foot behind your left into a curtsy lunge making sure that the left knee is still facing forward and is right over your ankle. Don’t let it roll in or out. Your body should be upright and your toes should be pointing forward. Bring your right foot back to starting position.

Start off with 3 sets of 10 lunges (5 on each leg) and build up to 3 sets of 30 lunges. When you can do these comfortably you can make the exercise more challenging by adding weights.