Lessons learned: Tanja Shaw reflects on 10 years as a personal trainer

In my last article, I shared three things I learned in the past 10 years as a personal trainer. Today I will share three more

Lessons learned: Tanja Shaw reflects on 10 years as a personal trainer

In my last article, I shared three things I learned in the past 10 years as a personal trainer. Today I will share three more things I’ve learned.

• Fat is actually good for you. Really good for you. I remember my twelfth grade PE teacher giving a lecture on nutrition.  We were talking about carbs for fuel, and she recommended a dinner of pasta (since it’s a complex carb) and low fat tomato sauce. This was the late ’90s, and when the low fat craze was at its peak. Fat was bad. The theory was that since fat has nine calories per gram, it would cause you to gain weight faster than carbohydrates and protein. In my early years as a trainer, I would still recommend eating nuts, but strongly caution to limit portion size since “they were so high in fat.”

Food companies capitalized on the low-fat trend with a host of low fat versions of regular food products, and interestingly, the low fat craze came at the same time as the start of the obesity epidemic.

In recent years we’ve re-learned what our grandparents already knew: fat does not make us fat. Fat improves the taste of food, fat helps to keep us feeling full for longer (and therefore we eat less over the day), fat improves the absorption of certain nutrients, and fat reduces the production of insulin, the hormone responsible for storing body fat.

Take Action: Don’t fear fat! Add a portion of fat to each meal to help keep you satisfied and feeling full! Good sources of fat include olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and fatty fish.

• The calories in vs. calories out is true – but only sort of. I used to think that you could enter your weight and height and activity level on an online calculator, and it would spit out a number of calories that you need to eat and burn each day to lose a pound of weight a week. You could count calories and input the number of a calories burned on the elliptical trainer to determine whether or not you would lose weight. The math is sound, but the human body cannot be measured by a simple mathematical equation.  Instead, the human body has so many variables that even attempting to measure calories as a way to predict weight loss is futile.  For example, the equation does not account for metabolic rate. As you lose weight, metabolism slows to offset the fewer calories consumed. This shift it metabolic rate is the reason why weight loss plateaus or slows as you come closer to your ideal weight. Building muscle, on the other hand, will increase metabolic rate. The calorie equation doesn’t account for type of calories. The body burns a lot more fuel to digest certain foods, such as protein and whole foods, versus refined carbohydrates. Finally, the calorie equation doesn’t account for the effect of hormones on the body. For example, a high carbohydrate diet will increase the body’s production of insulin, a hormone that promotes fat storage.

Take Action: While being aware of the amount of calories and macronutrients in foods is wise, be aware that the human body is more complex than a simple math equation.

• You can workout for half the time, and get even better results. I used to do a lot of exercise, and I wanted my clients to do the same. I carefully prescribed set cardio programs with detailed time, intensity and heart rate zones. I thought you had to aim for at least 30 minutes per day. My training sessions were one hour long and my clients worked the entire time. Because so many people had difficulty committing to hour-long workouts, I started to modify and condense some of the routines.  The outcome? They found their routines more manageable to fit in, and they got better results. I quickly learned that quality, not quantity of exercise is what matters. We focused on full body, functional movements (such as squats, lunges, pushes and pulls), and we changed the routine often. As for cardio? I still recommend it, but only as a secondary choice to fitting in strength training. I’m a lot less specific on what to do, because unless someone is training for a very specific event or race, everything counts.

Take Action: Carve our 20-30 minutes two to four times per week for planned exercise. Focus on full body, functional movements, and change your routine often.

Much has changed in the past 10 years. Things that we used to think were true are being disproven, and we’re finding different ways to accomplish the same goal. Some advice has remained the same: move your body, eat mostly real foods, and have an open mind. I look forward to what the next 10 years will bring!

Tanja Shaw is the owner of Ascend Fitness Inc., a private training studio. Tanja and her team of expert fitness professionals work to inspire and educate Chilliwack residents to make positive and power changes in their lives through physical fitness and sound nutrition. For more fitness tips go to www.ascendfitnesscoaching.com.