Carbs: don’t believe the hype

At Inspirit Retreat we spend a lot of our time dispelling myths. Here’s one: “you’ll never lose weight if you eat carbs.”

Thanks to the internet, there are a lot of overnight experts on this kind of thing – and there’s a huge amount of misinformation, too. The fact is, it’s perfectly possible to eat carbs as part of a long-term nutrition and weight loss plan.

The key word there? “Long-term.” The anti-carb brigade tend to be the ones who want immediate results after years of poor diet and stress – the ones who can’t wait to do the next cleanse, who believe they’ll find that magic supplement to make all the fat disappear, who want it all done yesterday so they never have to worry about it again.

Often, they’ll go to extremes, removing carbs and fats completely, and hardly eating any calories at all. This approach never works, and it can can sometimes do you quite a lot of harm. Apart from anything, it’s no fun at all – so why would you keep doing it?

The metabolism is incredibly complex. Thousands of chemical reactions and enzyme activities are occurring every single second. You can be storing fat in one part of the body, and burning it in another. With everything that’s going on, simply saying “drop carbs lose fat” is pretty meaningless.

Carbs are not the enemy, and they’re always on the menu at Inspirit Retreat’s base in Portugal. The important thing is that they should be part of an overall long-term diet and wellbeing strategy – and that’s exactly what we work on creating for each of our clients.

There’s no such thing as a free ride when it comes to carbs (or calories, for that matter), but you don’t have to go through purgatory either. Carbs, like every other food group, play an important part in a balanced, pleasant diet. An unbalanced, unpleasant diet is no use to anyone.

Top tips for a trim tummy

One of the things we hear most often at Inspirit Retreat is “I want a flatter stomach.” That’s part of what we work on in Portugal, but there are five simple things you can start doing right now to lose that belly bulge and start looking more toned.

  1. Chew your food properly! Doing so improves the way you digest your food, which means less bloating. It also means you feel full more quickly.
  1. Track your food intake. Knowledge is power: if you’re not really sure what you’re consuming, you won’t be able to spot the patterns which will show you where you may need to make some changes. Keep an eye on how many calories you’re taking in each day. Also watch what you’re actually eating. Some people find that certain foods – dairy, gluten and some vegetables and nuts in particular – are harder to digest and may cause them issues.
  1. Look after your liver. If it’s not functioning effectively then fat is much harder to shift. You can improve the health of your liver with nutrient-dense foods, plenty of hydration and regular exercise. And you can make its life easier by cutting down on processed foods and excessive alcohol – if you do consume alcohol more than three or four times a week, your health and fat-loss are likely to plateau beyond a certain point. Stress doesn’t do your liver any favours either: supplements like milk thistle, glutathione, turmeric and artichoke can help on this front.
  1. Manage stress in general. The best way of doing this is to sleep better – both in terms of quality and duration. We find that taking zinc and magnesium half an hour before going to bed works really well, along with some deep breathing meditation. If you can start to improve your sleeping you’ll notice the results within a matter of days.
  1. Train hard and fast. Strength training and high interval cardio boost the hormones which will help you shed stubborn body fat. Effort here is never wasted.

Losing weight – how to win

Most people fail with their weight loss goals, even after extreme dieting. Often, the diets which give the biggest initial improvement actually give the greatest weight gain in the following months.

There are three common reasons why:

  1. The diet has been too restrictive, so you’re more likely to binge.
  2. The diet has been super low calorie and low protein, meaning most of the weight you lose is water and muscle. This can mess up your metabolism for months.
  3. The diet has been low fat. This is no good for your hormones, and it usually means eating more processed foods – which in turn affect your liver, your thyroids and immune system.

The good news is that you don’t have to take that path. If you’re serious about weight loss, there are some simple unflashy things you can do with your eating that really will make a big – and lasting – difference. Here’s a quick rundown…

  • Try to stay in calorie deficit – to drop weight you need a negative energy balance. But don’t go all low-calorie. Rather, stick to unprocessed foods to meet your needs, while factoring in occasional treats to keep it sustainable.
  • Drink 2 to 3 litres of water each day. A dehydrated body doesn’t work properly, and it halts stubborn fat loss.
  • Eat protein. Protein maintains muscle mass and promotes a healthy metabolism. Eggs, fish, lean meats, seafood, beans and dairy are all good sources. Women should aim for 0.6g per pound of body weight daily, men 1g per pound.
  • 12g per 1000 calories is a good target to aim for to stay healthy. That means lots of vegetables, with some fruit and grains.
  • Mixed fats are essential. Butter, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish will all boost your hormones – just keep an eye on the calorie count.
  • It’s OK to like carbs. As long as you’re mostly maintaining a calorie deficit then bread, cake and wine (in moderation…) are fine. Keep the journey an enjoyable one.
  • Resistance training is the best thing to do in the gym to lose weight. Bodyweight exercises are good for beginners, and you can move on to dumbells, kettlebells and barbells. You’ll look, move and feel better within weeks.
  • De-stress. Stress is the number one reason people hold on to fat. The place to start is by improving the quality and quantity of your sleep. Zinc and magnesium help, and it’s worth trying to stay away from screens late in the day.

We work on all of this at our retreats in Portugal. Get in touch if we can help you – and why not try these weight-loss tips today?

Having your cake and eating it

One of the most common questions Inspirit Retreat guests ask us is “What foods do I have to cut out to lose weight?” They’re sometimes surprised when our answer is “None – enjoy your food!” Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that.

If you’re serious about getting in shape you can’t just eat whatever you want whenever you want it, and it’s definitely good to understand a bit about nutrition and how it affects you. But we strongly believe that if you don’t have a diet you enjoy, it’s not going to work – and there are other lifestyle factors that are equally important anyway.

Just look at all the restrictive diets on offer out there: low carb, low fat, low calorie, gluten free, vegan, fasting and so on. If one of these diets was guaranteed to work, there wouldn’t be any others! When people have allergies or intolerances, then naturally it makes sense to cut out whatever’s causing the problem.

If not, then the one thing that can be said in favour of diets like this is that some of them might sometimes get some short-term results. But generally speaking they’re uncomfortable and unsustainable, and therefore get you nowhere in the long run.

At Inspirit Retreat, our ethos is different. Healthy eating matters but it’s a question of balance, and we’re lucky to be based in a region where the local cuisine makes it easy to prepare excellent nutritious food. The meals we serve are tailored to each guest and do get results, but they’re intended first and foremost to be enjoyed – and to lay the foundations for a future approach where taking a sensible approach to food is a positive pleasure, not a minefield of negative prohibitions.

Accentuate the positive

Here at Inspirit Retreat we don’t believe in bootcamps or extreme diets. Sure, they might help make you fitter for a while and lose a few pounds, but what then? We meet a lot of people who are making big efforts to exercise and eat sensibly, and yet they’re still struggling with the same destructive habits and are really unhappy with their body and health.

The thing is, what’s going on in your mind is just as important – so at our retreats we spend a lot of time working on that. Three areas come up time and again.

  1. Work, food, relationships, lifestyle – and those other worries that just won’t go away – can cause huge amounts of stress, and when you’re stressed you’re facing an uphill battle when it comes to achieving and maintaining fitness. There’s no magic bullet on this one, but there are tools you can use with your mind just like there’s gym equipment for your body. We’ll help you find the right ones.
  2. Limiting self-beliefs. Most of us have them. But if we believe we’re not good enough, should be doing better, feel stupid, feel fat or whatever else, then to all intents and purposes it’s true – in our mind, at least. So the belief itself is the problem, and becomes an obstacle holding us back. At Inspirit Retreat we work with various techniques – emotional freedom therapies (EFT), hypnosis, meditation, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) etc – which can help build that all-important self-belief.
  3. No one’s pretending life is easy: we all have things that aren’t going our way. But if your thoughts are constantly leaning to the negative your health, mindset and body will pay for it. We can’t wave a wand and make problems disappear, but we do believe it’s worth focusing on what there is to be grateful for. Happy, positive people always seem to progress faster, and that’s what we try to achieve.

If you want to talk to us about any of this, you don’t have to wait till you reach the Algarve. Get in touch – we’re here to support you.

Healthy mind, healthy body

A lot of the most important changes in the body have to start in the mind. At Inspirit Retreats in Portugal, we spend a lot of time working on people’s mindsets. Bootcamps are all very well for burning off a few pounds before putting them back on again – but real, lasting change is all about new perspectives.

It’s not uncommon for people to come to us telling us ‘I have to get rid of this fat’, deep in despair at the impossibility of their situation, focusing only on how unhappy they are currently, and how much this is something they do not want.

When you feel like that, there’s no way forward. You sink into a cycle of depression, and your motivation and energy drains away.

The solution? It’s all in the mind.

There are some really helpful visualisation techniques which can start getting you towards the place you want to be, and these are something we find we use a lot in our work at Inspirit Retreats. We help our clients focus their attention on what it is they want, and give them a hand getting there – it’s amazing to see what can be achieved once goals are defined and people are in the right mindset to reach them.

You can train every day of the week and eat as cleanly and restrictively as an Olympic athlete, but if your mind is in the wrong place your body will be in the wrong place too. An Inspirit Retreat is designed to help with that.

Negative needs

“Need” can be a dangerous word. Many of our clients come to us because they “need” to lose weight. They’re obsessed with that stubborn belly fat, those flabby arms, those big hips…

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with identifying problem areas to address. But if all your “need” is focused on the problem itself, there’s no room left for what you’re going to do about it, and it’ll always feel like more of the same.

So here are a few simple things which will help.

  • Go beyond concentrating on what you don’t want, and be clear on what you do want instead. Be specific.
  • Now you can find out what it will take to get there. This includes diet, workouts and lifestyle changes. Don’t just pick the latest diet fad. Ask someone who consistently gets results: how do they do it?
  • Focus on where you’re heading. Stop talking about those negative “needs”, and start looking forward to those positive results: once you’ve started the process, there’s no reason at all you won’t get there if you believe in yourself – so look forward to it. Visualisation techniques can help with this.
  • Be consistent with your training and diet. Yes, it would be nice to say it’s all in the mind, but be sensible and practical about the daily basics too.

If you “need” (!) any advice to get you started, reach out and we’ll help point you in the right direction.

Top of the morning

What’s the first thing you drink in the morning?

Tastes vary. A glass of juice for some, a cup of tea for others? We usually used to have a sip of water and then get stuck into the caffeine!

But for the last couple of years we’ve been enjoying something else, and it’s been working so well for us that we’ve been encouraging all of our clients at Inspirit Retreat to give it a go.

What is this wonderful secret? All it is is a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, a pinch of Himalayan pink sea salt, and some filtered water.

It’s a simple mix, but it’s full of benefits. Lemon and lime are both very friendly to the liver, as well as good for the digestive system. The better your liver works, the easier it is for you to drop body fat. Meanwhile, if your digestive system is working well then it is less likely you’ll feel bloated, sluggish or tired during the day.

The Himalayan salt helps restore good electrolyte balance in your body, which again means less bloating as you’re less likely to ‘hold’ water.

Why not give it a try? We think you’ll soon notice a difference.

As a general point, remember that dehydration makes it harder to drop stubborn fat, so make sure you drink plenty during the day. You can add sliced lemons and limes to your water to make it a bit more interesting. We recommend one litre per 50 pounds of body weight, and more on days when you exercise.

Under pressure

Have you ever noticed how much pressure people tend to put themselves under when they decide they want to make changes to their body?

They’ll hurl themselves into a restrictive diet or an intense bootcamp regime, suffer like crazy, and maybe it’ll work for a while in a limited way. But what they’re doing is so unenjoyable, so extreme, that there’s no way of sustaining it indefinitely. And then it all stops – and slowly but surely the problems begin to pile up again.

That’s not how we believe in doing things at Inspirit Retreat. If you want to look and feel better you don’t need a chicken and broccoli diet while living year-round at the gym. You just need to make a few small changes and learn some useful habits, and the incremental changes will soon start to build.

The point is that if you’re enjoying a few small improvements and not slavishly sticking to unpleasant things you know deep down aren’t going to work, the way forward becomes much clearer, and you’ll notice the change. Losing a pound a week really is no big deal – keep it up for a year, suddenly you’re 50 pounds lighter, and you haven’t put yourself under too much pressure.

If you come out on an Inspirit Retreat, you’ll find we focus a lot on your individual tastes and habits, because lasting change is much more likely if it fits into a lifestyle that suits you and that doesn’t need enormous effort to accomplish. We’ll work with you to set you on the path towards greater wellbeing, but it’s a path you should be able to walk with confidence, and maybe even enjoy the view.