Bangers and mash. Strawberries and cream. Bacon and eggs. Some things just go better together. Like (and – hoo, boy! – this intro is hard to digest) regular exercise and healthy eating. Forget the “earn it to burn it” garbage: if you’re serious about getting into shape, it’s not enough to only diet, or only exercise. You have to do both, and they have to complement each other.

This morning, as part of the #MHStaffChallenge, we had a mid-way catch-up meeting with our dietician, Sarah Chantler. I like Sarah. I often bump into her at RIPT classes (she works at the Sports Science Institute), and she approaches her workouts with a healthy dose of good humour.  Sarah is smart: MSc, BSc (Hons)… She has a whole alphabet soup after her name on her business card. And Sarah is also a realist. The eating plan she gave me at the start of the #MHStaffChallenge was based on balancing stuff I like to eat with stuff I should eat.

Today, at our Circle of Trust team meeting, she dished up more of the same. Here are a couple of notes I made during the meeting. See what you can use in your own fitness journey.

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> THERE ARE NO ‘BAD’ FOODS
Similarly, there are no ‘good’ foods either. The way Sarah sees it, food isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’: her focus, rather, is on what’s appropriate. She uses the example of Coca-Cola. When you’re sitting at home on the couch, a can of Coke is bad. (What is your body going to do with all that sugar?) But when you’re at the 30km mark on a marathon, a cup of Coke is good. (Sugar! Caffeine! And it tastes good!) Instead of looking at food as being ‘bad’ or ‘good’, Sarah recommends asking yourself: “How will this food choice work in terms of my goal?” When you start looking at your food through that lens, you’ll start making smarter choices about what you eat – and when you eat it.

> AVOID THE SNACK SHACK
This issue came up at the start of the #MHStaffChallenge… and it’s one that’s pretty dear to my heart. My commute between home and the office is pretty long. Best case, I’m on a train for an hour. Worst case, I’m stuck in traffic (or on a train) for up to two hours. From an eating plan point of view, this is disastrous at the end of the day. Before the #MHStaffChallenge, I’d get home hungry – and the first thing I’d do is eat whatever snack was available. That, invariably, would mean hitting the ‘Snack Shack’ that my daughters and I have, packed with chocolate. And we’re not talking a small, disciplined block of dark chocolate here. We’re talking a full slab of the good stuff. Every evening. Before supper.
Sarah suggested a workaround, which has worked very well for me so far. “Instead of snacking at home,” she said, “try to have a snack before you start your journey home, at 5 o’clock.” It’s just enough to stave off the hunger, and it’s enough to carry me through until supper. Genius.

> BE SMART ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS
Full disclosure: I don’t do supplements. I know a lot of the guys in the office do, and they’ve found that supplements work for them. But – as Sarah pointed out this morning in our meeting – you don’t always know what’s going into that magic powder. Some of the ingredients are proprietary compounds with fantastic names… and you have absolutely no way of knowing what you’re putting into your body, and whether the dosage is appropriate or not.
Like I said: I’m not an expert on supps. I don’t use them, and I’m not in a position to speak with any great authority on them. But I do know about the Placebo Effect. Just bear that in mind next time you shake up a bottle of PROTO-JACKKED3000.

> DON’T WASTE IT OVER THE WEEKEND
Now here’s something I do know all about. A lot of my (bad) eating happens over weekends. I’m a social eater: if I’m eating irresponsibly, it’s either because I’m dog-tired and I’m getting pizza for Family Movie Night, or it’s because I’m seeing friends and we’re hitting a braai or a hearty dinner. And that runs the risk of blowing all the hard work I’ve been doing in the RIPT gym during the week. One of the guys in the team said that what he does (and I must confess, I do it too) is, if he knows he’s having a huge lunch, he’ll have a small supper. Or he’ll skip breakfast. Or something like that. And you have to admit: it makes sense… to a point. As Sarah warned, if you compensate with your meals like this, you could end up going into the ‘bigger’ meal feeling too hungry – and that’s when you run the risk of picking up just one more boerie, or just one more helping of ice cream, or just three more beers. Overcompensating, in this case, could lead to overeating.