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Fitness advice: How keeping a diary could help you hit your health goals

Having worked with thousands of clients since opening No1 Fitness nine years ago, Ive worked out what the single most underrated part of a fitness regime is: the initial consultation.

Everyone has a goal. And everyone will tell you what they want to achieve. But the two arent always the same thing. There are a million reasons people might be economical with the truth, and often they wont even know themselves why they have decided to change their lifestyle. My aim is to dig deep, to understand – and help them understand – what it is they truly want.

Once I have all the information, its easier to train a client. The key to success is to listen and understand, rather than just telling people what you think they need.

You might ask why: surely me shouting at someone to do burpees five times a week until theyve shed three stone is the perfect solution – to hell with what they think or feel. Its the results that count, right?

But this ignores the most important aspect of any fitness regime: sustainability. I can shout all day long, tell you what to eat, tell you what exercises to do, even tell you how to live your social life… But theres no point putting in all the hard work over three months if youre not going to keep it up and keep the weight off. You may as well go to the pub every night and enjoy yourself for all the good a tiny 12-week spike on the giant cardio-monitor of life will do you.

At No1 Fitness, we use something called the “coaching calendar”, which is a great way to get awareness. Log your activity. Track your diet. Stick your gym sessions in a calendar. Paying attention to what you are doing every day is the catalyst to getting results. Its fascinating how little people know what they are doing with their lives, simply drifting from day to day without giving it much thought; wake, work, commute, sleep, repeat. Gaining a real insight into how you spend your hours, writing them down so you can see patterns over weeks and months, makes a huge difference. Then you can see what you need to change.

My challenge to City A.M. readers is to get you to track some of the following areas for the next 30 days, even just three or four of them. Im not asking you to alter your behaviour – have nights out, skip the gym, eat junk food, get stressed, whatever – just write it down in a calendar or list app. If you miss a day, dont worry, just pick up where you left off.

For those who have never done anything like this before, you will be amazed at some of the results and how they will make you feel. Then next month, you can start to make small changes based on the information, which will in turn have a positive effect on your weight, energy levels and sleep.

Steps

This can be measured a number of ways. Most phones now have a step tracker built in, so as long as its always on your person, it should be fairly accurate. Remember to keep a note at the end of every day with the number of steps.

Calories

Myfitnesspal is an app that allows you to see how many calories youre eating. You can enter almost any food. You can search by restaurant or scan a barcode to upload the figures almost instantly.

Pay attention to the portion sizes – as you will soon see, food labelling is designed to con and confuse you. Tracking food is the best way to understand what youre eating, and youll soon realise where youre going wrong. As soon as clients start to realise their problem areas, they tend to make changes without me having to tell them.

Sleep

Sleep is so important, and people tend to overestimate how much of it theyre getting. There are a number of sleep tracker apps, which monitor your movement throughout the night.

Note how many hours of deep sleep you get each night. For those who think they get a good eight hours, youll be in for a surprise. Hardly anyone comes into my gym asking to improve their sleep, but when it happens, it can improve your life massively.

When clients are aware of how little they are sleeping, or how restless their sleep is, they automatically make changes: relaxing music before bed, magnesium to help with sleep or no phones after a certain time in the evening.

Exercise

This is super-important for your health as well as getting results. Mark off each time you go to the gym. Come up with a system that works for you; I use a colour code where green means “trained”, blue means “trained twice” (cycled to work and then worked out), and red means “didnt train”.

This system will really keep you focussed – one client refused to have any red marks on her plan, so it made her go to the gym every day.

Alcohol consumed

Ive had dozens of clients who didnt realise how many times they were out boozing during the week, how much money they were spending, and how many hangovers they were fighting through.

Nights out

City life tempts us with nights out all week. This is the norm and in some cases hard to get away from. Again, use a colour system to map when you go out, or when you know you have something coming up. You can even add what time you make it home. All of these factors interlink: get home earlier = less alcohol consumed = more and better sleep.

Friends or family visited

Seeing and being around loved ones is an important factor to health and wellbeing. People often get so caught up with work that everyone else in their life is put on hold. This has happened to me on occasions, so I understand it.

So plot when you spent some time with people you love. I like this one, as it makes people realise that all they do is work. This will allow you to eventually take more control of your diary and become more involved in family life. Put future visits in your diary to make yourself more accountable.

Stillness/meditation

This has transformed my life more than any of the others over the last 12 years. How many of you have actually meditated? I still hear people say “Its not for me”, or “Its too spiritual”. But if youre feeling stressed or overwhelmed take five minutes to go outside and gather your thoughts and give you a bit more clarity. Try it! Add then add a note in your diary, too.

If you have aesthetic goals like weight loss or building muscle, first you should spend some time working on these. It sounds like a lot of work, it will soon become part of your daily routine, taking just minutes out of your day. And it will give you the tools and knowledge to hit those goals and stay there.

• Harry Thomas is co-founder of City gym No.1 Fitness. To book a session or for more information contact 020 7403 6660 or visit no1fitness.co.uk

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