Mark Rippetoe makes in into the Guardian!

How times have changed.

Spotted in the Guardian, an interesting article on weightlifting and the Starting Strength method as authored by Mark Rippetoe.

The article makes the point that lifting heavy things (not necessarily above your head) is good for you, may help prevent some diseases and may even help keep you young. I agree with that – just look at me!  🙂 What surprised me is that it’s the Starting Strength approach that the article recommends as a method.

Mark Rippetoe has been around for a long time now and published the first edition  of Starting Strength in 2005. Its been updated a couple of time since then and there is a Kindle edition too now.

Of course lifting weights is becoming more popular, as evidenced by the large and increasing number of free weights in my gym, and the popularity of Crossfit but, in my experience, the Starting Strength approach has never featured very strongly in the favoured methods of strength training. Maybe that’s because Mark Rippetoe can be quite abrasive (he has fallen out with a few people over the years) but when you get over that, he’s quite funny. Here’s what he said when asked whether squats were bad for the knees (you may see there’s a BTL comment to that effect in the Guardian article!):

“Anyone who says that full squats are “bad for the knees” has, with that statement, demonstrated conclusively that they are not entitled to an opinion about the matter. People who know nothing about a topic, especially a very technical one that requires specific training, knowledge, and experience, are not due an opinion about that topic and are better served by being quiet when it is asked about or discussed. For example, when brain surgery, or string theory, or the NFL draft, or women’s dress sizes, or white wine is being discussed, I remain quiet, odd though that may seem. But seldom is this the case when orthopedic surgeons, athletic trainers, physical therapists, or nurses are asked about full squats.”

Starting Strength is based around four exercises: squat; press; deadlift; and bench press; and two lifts – the power clean and the power snatch. The book is hugely detailed on theory and technique and, if you are interested  in that kind of thing, it is a good book to read. If you are interested in becoming a competitive power lifter, as he was, then there would be no better coach than Mr. Rippetoe. However, not too many people are wanting to be a competitive power lifter and as a general exercise methodology for getting fit and strong and doing interesting things with your body, its got one major drawback. It’s boring.

When you think about the variety of exercise equipment that is available, why would you want to restrict yourself to a bar and some weight plates? What about kettlebells, medicine balls, dumbbells, TRX, all the different types of body weight exercises you can do? There are bags and battle ropes and tractor tyres and, although Mark Rippetoe hates them, there are all the different kinds of resistance machines too. He says resistance machines don’t work, I say they do. You can use them and make up your own mind.

Having said all that, there is much that I agree with:

  • using your muscles to move heavy things is good for you;
  • resistance training is a vital part of any exercise regime;
  • resistance training has been shown to help prevent or slow several diseases of ageing;
  • lifting weights above your head is fun, life affirming and empowering;
  • its never too late to start.

If you would like some proof that its never to late to start, check out this video on Mark’s website (and get a tissue ready)


It’s about predictability, repeat-ability… and not eating crap.

peters weight 2012

Above is near enough six years of my life in kilograms. The red ovals highlight January from 2013 to 2018. Every January, I do the same thing to correct my weight back down to where I want it to be at the start of the year and that allows me to eat more or less exactly what I want during the rest of the year without worrying that my weight will be not under control. It’s clear that the variation stays more or less within the same top and bottom bounds from year to year and the weight loss in every January is pretty much the same.

So how do I lose about 6kgs every January? It’s easy,  just follow the Whole30 plan and eat real food. It really is as simple and as straight forward as that.

If it really is that simple and straightforward to control body weight, you would be forgiven for wondering why the UK has such a huge problem with people being overweight and obese. Until you look at what it is people in the UK eat… over 50% of what is consumed in the UK is “ultra-processed” food:

I don’t really know what to say. It gets worse with each statistic.

It’s time I gave Public Health England a break… nah…

Public Health England (PHE) gets a lot of stick on this site. PHE is the public sector organisation that exists to

“protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities.”

… and that’s a pretty tough gig especially in a nation that seems to have no regard for following advice (whether its good or bad) and, rather than look after its own health, expects the National Health Service to simply cure us after we have made ourselves ill. PHE also exists and provides its advice within the boundaries of what is acceptable to the orthodox wisdom of the medical community. It terms of obesity, this has meant faithfully reproducing the advice and guidance that has created the inexorable rise in obesity in the developed world over the last 40 years.

But, I hear you ask, how can you both criticise the advice as incorrect and in the same argument, say that people don’t follow advice? Well, on the whole I don’t think people do follow advice, but sometimes, maybe on purpose maybe by accident, they do. When they do follow advice, I think that surely the advice giver should look at the outcome and reflect on their advice to see if it was right?

Anyway back to PHE. One thing they are really good at is collecting and publishing data. You can find LOADS of it here

Just trawling around through the data in a loose moment (as you do), a few things jumped out at me…

  1. In the UK, 7 out of 10 men and 6 out of 10 women are overweight or obese (yikes!)…


2. We are getting fatter… this is for severe obesity (BMI 40+)


… but its not just the severely obese, its everyone. This is a population shift… approaching 50% of the population. That’s shocking!


3. But look at this… we do listen to advice!! Fat consumption is BELOW the recommended levels… thick black line is the PHE recommended intake and we are below! How come we are still getting fatter?


4. Here’s the kicker… sugar consumption is massively (and I mean massively) ABOVE recommended levels. Again thick black line is the PHE recommended amount.


So, Public Health England, here’s my analysis of your data…

a) Your advice overall is simply not working (slide 1).
b) As well as not working overall, its ACTUALLY GETTING WORSE (slide 2).
c) People have followed your advice with respect to fat (slide 3), it hasn’t worked and things are still getting worse (slide 1 and 2).
d) People have totally ignored your advice with respect to sugar and are consuming MORE THAN TWICE your recommended maximum (slide 4) and are getting fatter (slide 1 and 2).

Therefore, taking all that together, I propose it shows us that:

  • it’s not eating fat that makes people fat, it’s sugar;
  • reducing fat intake is easier for people to do than reducing sugar: because
  • Big Food has reduced the fat content of prepared food and replaced it with sugar. In the process it has created a whole population of sugar addicts that also just happen to be very good for business.

That’s my analysis anyway. There’s more data on PHE’s website so maybe I’m not completely correct, but guess what, PHE has no analysis whatsoever. Maybe its just to difficult for them…

January 2018… is it just me?

January has rolled around again and as usual, the newspapers start the year by reporting on things that might form part of people’s New Year’s resolutions, such as undertaking to pay more for train fares (always a January favourite of mine) and the perennial lose weight/take more exercise/ eat “healthier” food. This year the headline writers have been given a helping hand by the “experts” at Public Health England (PHE) who have decided that now is a good time to give advice to parents on restricting their children’s access to “snack foods” that are high in sugar to no more that two a day at no more than 100 Calories a pop.

Now that could be sound advice,  I don’t know if it is, (although it is undoubtedly bound to be ignored) but can I be the only person the the UK weighed down with an overwhelming sense of irony. This is the same PHE that recently produced the Childhood Obesity Strategy. Possibly the most useless document ever produced by a public body and not worth the title of a strategy.

Obese? We’ve got an app for that…

As I said at the time, faced with the choice of actually taking on Big Food and doing something about this mess, PHE bottled it, claiming it was all someone else’s fault but without specifying whose. Fast forward 18 months and now they know who to blame… its the parents of course.  It’s nothing to do with Big Food putting highly addictive food in very attractive packaging and aggressively marketing it to children…. no, no,no… its the bloody parents! Now I don’t know much about parenting not having kids, but I do know about being a kid and I do know about being an obese one at that. What I know is that there was nothing, literally nothing, my parents could have done to stop me eating sugar. If they didn’t give it to me I would buy it and if I had no money I would steal it. This isn’t the exercise of a free will – I knew it was wrong and bad for me – the simple fact is that sugar is addictive and it is relentlessly pushed to children by multi-national companies.

In response to this unprecedented public health emergency (not my words, their’s) the PHE said in their strategy that they were going to solve the childhood obesity crisis by releasing a smartphone app. A smartphone app to take on the hundreds of millions spent on advertising, branding, packaging and all the other paraphernalia that these enormous corporations can bring to bear to persuade children to eat junk… save me… and btw, where is it??

If you want just a taster of how Big Food behave, here’s an article from an ex-sugar pusher in the same paper on the same day as the PHE article – again, without a hint of irony anywhere to be seen.

And finally, just to add to my feeling that we might actually have gone through the looking glass, the Sun heaps irony on irony with its front page, simultaneously advertising the undoubted charms of Joe Wicks and his weight loss strategy and railing against the PHE guidelines as a restriction on children’s freedom to choose to dig their own graves with their teeth. As if they have any choice in it…


Let’s just skip January and go straight to February.

Success is a Journey


Sally’s Weight in Kilograms – red line is the trend

Serious and sustained weight loss is not an easy thing to achieve. It takes time, you need to apply yourself to it and it takes dedication. If you are obese, however, it is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health and prospects for a long life. The co-morbidities associated with obesity seem endless – cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, musculo-skeletal problems and metabolic syndrome are some of them. Maybe Alzheimer’s should be in my list too. Given that we know all that, you might think it should be the case that the body would want to get rid of excess body fat and in general I think it does, but 3 things get in the way:

  1. Homeostasis – the desire of the body to stay in the state it is currently in;
  2. The addictive nature of carbohydrates; and
  3. Our bodies are made for starvation and body fat is our insurance policy to ensure we survive.

The human body doesn’t like change and when you try to change a bit of it, it employs systems to resist that change i.e. temperature goes up, we sweat to bring it down. It does the same thing with body fat. If we eat less the body has fewer calories to play with so it either does less (slows down movement for e.g.) or does something less intensively (turns down our body temperature slightly). Researchers have shown this by attaching movement sensors to people on a calorie restricted diet and have measured less movement, even though the dieters reported that they moved the same amount.

The Addictive Nature of Carbohydrates
The action of fast acting carbohydrates is shown in the right-hand graph below and slower acting foods on the left. You will note that fast acting carbs crash blood sugar below its normal fasting level. This will make your body want to rebuild that blood glucose to the level it should be quickly, and irrespective of what your overall nutritional status is, it will decide you need to eat and eat something that will replace the missing glucose quickly – i.e. more carbohydrates – and the cycle therefore begins again. That’s addiction in my book.


Our Bodies are made for Starvation
As a pretty vulnerable animal, we are astonishingly successful. Partly because of our big (although smaller than they used to be) brains and partly because we can do without food for a long time when hunting is bad and food is scarce. When calories are in short supply, we tend to move less we are not so warm and we hang on to all the resources we can and the most important one of these is body fat. We therefore keep hold of it for as long as we can and use it only when we have to or, crucially, when can replace it easily – i.e. there is plenty of fat in our diet. The longest recorded human fast (no food at all) was 382 days without any ill effects.


Which brings me to the graph at the top of the page. This is a record of the weight in kilograms of one of my clients. We can call her Sally. Sally came to me three years ago with a BMI of nearly 40 and a weight of 17stone 10lbs (248lbs), which was a lot for a woman of 5 feet 7 inches. I asked her how much weight she wanted to lose, and she said she didn’t know exactly but that a weight of “11 stone something” (154-167lbs) seemed about right. I agreed. I think I said it was achievable but wouldn’t be easy. If I did say that, I was right, but this week Sally has achieved it. She weighed in at 11stone 11lbs (165lbs) with a BMI of 26. A loss of 6 stone or 83lbs. It’s interesting to me to note that, as she has come close to her goal, her weekly weight losses have been some of the fastest ever. That appears to be the function of the introduction of some intermittent fasting (skipping breakfast in the main) and the re-introduction of coconut oil in coffee. Sally took out the coconut oil as she felt it was slowing her weight loss. It looks like the opposite was the case, which won’t surprise my Primal Health Coach colleagues. Convincing your body that it isn’t starving is key to persuading it to give up its stored fat and if you feed it fat, my interpretation of the evidence says the body responds to that fat intake with “good hunting, no worries, burn fat don’t store it…”

What a fantastic achievement!!
As you can see from the graph there have been setbacks, but Sally has achieved her dream of turning around her health. She did it all on a primal/paleo diet with no calorie restriction and just a bit of intermittent fasting in the last few months. Because of Sally’s honesty, we know that the times her weight increased were the times where, for various reasons, she fell off the primal wagon. But she always picked herself up and got back on again. There was another interesting issue that was associated with coming off and going back on a primal diet. When Sally came to me three years ago, one of the issues she had was arthritis in her hands, which isn’t good for a jewellery maker like her. While she was strictly primal however, the arthritis went away, when she wasn’t, it came back. It was a regular as clockwork – primal, no arthritis; not primal, arthritis. Sally is currently 100% primal and 100% arthritis and pain free. It’s not the first time I have seen this in my clients.

Sally now wants to get her BMI a bit below 25 in time for Christmas before entering the maintenance phase and I think she will do it. What a Christmas present that would be! Well done Sally, I am very proud to have had the opportunity to work with you over the years to achieve your goal.

To succeed, you only have to fall down seven times and get up eight.

I’m hoping Sally will share some photos soon…

It simply works…

10 days and just over 3kgs lighter. The top chart shows my weight the lower one my %age body fat. This was a slight weight correction for me after a gradual upward drift over the summer – probably caused by to many home grown vegetables!  🙂 

Intermittent fasting on a Whole30 regime. It simply works.