From Flab to Fab: Britain's Top Personal Trainer Explodes 150 Diet and Fitness Myths

From Flab to Fab: Britain's Top Personal Trainer Explodes 150 Diet and Fitness Myths

by Graeme Hilditch


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From Flab to Fab: Britain's Top Personal Trainer Explodes 150 Diet and Fitness Myths by Graeme Hilditch

Trying to keep ourselves fit and healthy is a challenge at the best of times. It seems that there is always someone ready to give us a piece of advice on how to exercise, lose weight, or have a more nutritious diet. But how much of what you are told can you believe and how do you know which pieces of advice to take seriously? If I exercise my tricep muscles, will I lose my bingo wings? Why do I need to supplement my diet with vitamin C when I eat three oranges a day? Do you burn as many calories walking a mile as you do running a mile? Does drinking beer give you a beer belly? Every day, top personal trainer Graeme Hilditch is asked just these kind of questions and, in this intriguing and informative book, he uses his extensive expertise in fitness and nutrition to explode some of the most common myths. His explanations are light-hearted and accessible to everyone and his no-nonsense advice will tell you everything you need to know in order to live a fit and healthy life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781844546985
Publisher: John Blake Publishing, Limited
Publication date: 07/01/2009
Pages: 258
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Graeme Hilditch is the author of Is It Just Me or Are Sit-Ups a Waste of Time? and The Marathon and Half Marathon: A Training Guide.

Read an Excerpt

From Flab to Fab

Britain's Top Personal Trainer Explodes 150 Diet and Fitness Myths

By Graeme Hilditch

John Blake Publishing Ltd

Copyright © 2008 Graeme Hilditch
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-85782-627-2



The tricep muscle on the back of the upper arm is an area where many women of a certain age begin to accumulate a little more fat than they feel is acceptable. Over the years, clients have referred to the loose skin on the back of their arms as 'Hello Helens', 'bingo flaps', 'dinner-lady arms', 'sugar gliders' and 'nanna wobbles'. The misconceptions on how to make them disappear are rife.

Using exercises to target specific muscle groups such as the 'nanna wobbles' can help to a degree by firming and toning up the muscles but sadly it is a myth that exercising a certain area will encourage the fat to melt away. This theory of 'spot reduction' has been tested numerous times on tennis players, comparing their playing arm with the other, redundant one. Although there was a clear musculature difference between the two, the fat levels were identical, proving that, irrespective of use, exercising a particular muscle does not reduce the fat content of the respective body part – unfortunately!


Oh, that old chestnut! Orthodox and alternative practitioners have been at it hammer and tongs over the vitamin C debate for years, leaving the omniscient 'they' in turmoil as to who is right and who is wrong.

Many orthodox practitioners dismiss the need for vitamin C supplements as they believe our diet contains adequate levels of the vitamin as it is, negating the need to supplement with pills. Alternative therapists, however, argue that intensive farming has lead to nutrient-depleted soil, causing arable produce to contain fewer nutrients than it did decades ago. (I will discuss the pros and cons of organic produce later in the book.) They argue that this has lead to people becoming nutrient deficient in most vitamins, especially vitamin C.

When asked a question about the necessity of vitamin C supplementation I like to point out a few simple facts and encourage people to draw their own conclusions. Along with guinea pigs and fruit bats, humans are the only living animals who rely on their diet for their vitamin C intake; all other animals manufacture it in their bodies. If you add into the equation the general state of our diets and inadequate consumption of fruit and vegetables, you have to ask yourself: are we actually consuming adequate levels of vitamin C? The world-renowned nutritionist Patrick Holford thinks not. He points out that the high incidence of disease and infection in society indicates poor immune function, the very function vitamin C is supposed to enhance.

The work and research into the health benefits of vitamin C by double Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling in the fifties also cannot be ignored. Although the doses taken by him are considered extreme (up to 40g a day which is equivalent to 880 oranges), he swore by the need to supplement the diet with vitamin C. Naturally, his methods and theories are strongly opposed by conventional medicine today and some studies even believe that excessive amounts of the vitamin can actually increase cancer growth.

The general consensus on vitamin C supplementation is that a supplemented dose of 1–2 grams (1,000–2,000mg) daily is not detrimental to your health. If you'd rather avoid pills and consume the vitamin C naturally, 40–50 oranges a day should be sufficient to meet the supplemental equivalent. It's up to you!


When it comes to exercise, there are generally two types of people – those who hate running and those who love it. For those who would rather have root canal work done than entertain the idea of going for a run, the obvious and somewhat biased supposition is that walking is a far superior form of calorie expenditure. Ramblers draw this conclusion from the fact that walking a mile takes longer than running a mile, so you are therefore exercising for longer and burning more energy. Runners, on the other hand, laugh at the apparent absurdity of this theory from their slower-moving counterparts. The 'pavement pounders' question how walkers, who barely raise a sweat, can possibly burn more energy over a mile than someone moving twice as fast, irrespective of it taking half the time.

The actual answer to this question is in fact a little more complicated than you might think. Studies on the amount of energy expended for various activities were carried out by leading exercise physiologists Jack Wilmore and David Costill. Estimations made by Wilmore and Costill suggest that a 70kg (154lb) man will burn 5 calories a minute walking at 3.5mph and 18.2 calories a minute running at 10mph. To save you the maths, per mile that equates to 85 calories expended during a 1-mile walk and 109 calories burned during a 1-mile run. 1–0 to the runners!

However, the victory is hardly convincing. Based on this study, by running a mile you will burn a pathetic 24 calories more than walking. When you consider that your average apple is worth 80 calories, is the extra effort of running worth it? The answer is a resounding 'yes'. At rest, even though the body is inactive, it still requires energy to sustain basic cellular and physiological functions such as brain activity, heart rate and enzyme reactions. Known as our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), the resting human body expends anywhere between 1,200 calories and 2,400 calories a day, depending on sex, age and genetics. However, when daily activity such as a walk or run is added, our BMR is increased to anywhere between 1,800 calories and 3,000 calories (10,000 calories is not uncommon for professional athletes).

The reason why some people have a higher BMR than others may bring a smile to runners' faces. Our BMR is determined not only by our age, sex and genes, but also by how active our muscle tissue is. If our muscles are worked hard and exercised thoroughly, as they are during a run, their need for energy at rest to help replenish expended nutrients is greatly increased. It is believed that, after a hard run, the energy demands of the leg muscles are doubled for up to 48 hours. Although a walk will elevate the resting energy requirements of the muscles to a degree, it is incomparable to a run. 2–0 to the runners!

Even though the energy you burn during and after walking a mile is not as much as running a mile, you have to ask: how long can a runner run for? This depends on ability but most casual runners have had enough after four or five miles, while walkers can keep going for double or treble that distance. That said, running is still a far superior form of exercise than walking!


Gyms are funny places. They're supposed to be a haven for the health- conscious to help lose a few pounds, get fit and gawp at the scantily clad gym junkies with perfect bodies, but the reality is somewhat different – except the gawping, everyone's guilty of that! Every day, people waste time and money by visiting the gym, hopping on an exercise bike and then flicking through the latest edition of a glossy magazine, with a sports drink as light refreshment. Their effort level on the bike is so low even a corpse could rival their energy expenditure!

A bottle of sports drink contains around 150 calories (mainly sugar) and, unless I am underestimating the energy required to turn the pages of a magazine and chat to the gym instructor, there are some people who would struggle to burn 150 calories in a session. By drinking a bottle or two of a sports drink there is every chance you might leave the gym having consumed more calories than you've expended.

For casual exercisers, though arguably less flavoursome than some sports drinks, water is the best fluid to consume during a workout. Water contains no calories and will rehydrate you as effectively as any sports drink, provided your session is of medium intensity and no longer than 90 minutes.

There are some instances, however, where the use of sports drinks is not unjustified and in some cases actually essential to maintain performance. For intense exercise bouts lasting for over an hour, sports drinks help to rehydrate the body more quickly and more effectively than water, as well as assist in replacing lost sugars and salts.

For those in training for a marathon, sports drinks are a necessary addition to the diet both during and after a long-distance run. During a marathon race there are up to 5 sports-drinks stations scattered around the 26.2-mile course for this very reason.


The false belief that performing hundreds of sit-ups every day in an effort to flatten the stomach is perhaps the most popular myth I have to deal with. The number of clients I have trained over the years who have begged me to put them through a 20-minute stomach workout to help shrink their waistline is staggering.

By performing sit-ups or 'crunches', as they are sometimes referred to, you are helping to strengthen and firm up the rectus abdominus muscle, more commonly known as the 'six-pack'.

Hundreds of sit-ups may well give your stomach muscles the strength to bounce bullets but crunches will do nothing to reduce the amount of fat you have on your tummy. Abdominal fat is there because of excessive calorie consumption, so the only way to get rid of it is to burn off the calories by following a balanced diet and performing high-intensity exercise such as running, cycling, aerobics and swimming.

There is one trick, however, which can help to give the appearance of a flatter stomach, regardless (within reason) of how much abdominal fat you possess. Underneath the rectus abdominus lies a band of muscle called the transversus abdominus. Also referred to as the 'corset muscle', the transversus abdominus helps to keep the back strong and compresses the abdomen. By exercising this muscle regularly, it can help to improve your posture and make the stomach appear flatter even though you may not have lost a single pound.

To exercise the transversus, all you need to do are two things:

1. Suck in your stomach, so your belly button is drawn towards your spine.

2. While your stomach is sucked in, do not hold your breath just keep breathing normally.

You will know that you are doing this properly when you begin to feel a minor burning sensation in the deep stomach. This is a sign that the transversus abdominus has been engaged and is being worked, just as the six-pack muscles are being worked while performing crunches. Initially, this is hard to do as many people instinctively want to breathe in as they draw in the stomach, but with practice it gets easier. If you are still finding it difficult, try performing the method on your hands and knees.

This technique is by no means a miracle cure but by performing it regularly, such as in the car, watching television or visiting the in-laws, it can help both to flatten your stomach and improve your posture.


The way many women approach weight loss has always intrigued me. Glossy magazines conjure up a new diet every week, often inspired by a painfully thin Hollywood actress who declares that her 'eat nothing all day until you feel faint, then eat a piece of cheese' diet is the best thing since sliced bread (which of course is off limits). Very low-calorie diets may seem to make perfect sense but, physiologically, the body has not evolved sufficiently to be able to cope with them if long-term weight loss is what you're after. In evolutionary terms, the human body is stuck in the days of 'feast or famine' and still regulates hormones as if we are in one state or another.

In times of famine, when there is little food around (like a very low-calorie diet), the body goes into starvation mode and hormones are produced to slow the metabolism down to help preserve energy. When food is reintroduced (when you binge on proper food again because you are tired of being so hungry!), extra enzymes and hormones are secreted to encourage the body to store fat and help it retain a little extra for the next anticipated famine.

This approach to weight loss is responsible for the culture of yo-yo dieting in which we live and dominates people's lives and weight-loss aspirations. Although following a diet sufficient to sustain the metabolism of an elf may initially fool you into thinking you are losing body fat, you are in fact also losing water and muscle mass. This not only encourages the body to store away more fat in the future but you also run the risk of causing permanent internal damage to your bones and kidneys.


Body Mass Index is a method used by many GPs to determine whether a patient is overweight. The trouble with this method of evaluation is that according to many health professionals it is very dated and out of touch with the variety of modern forms of body-composition tests readily available.

To calculate your BMI, use the following formula:

Your weight (kg)/[Your height x your height]

So, if we take me as an example:

85kg/[1.83 x 1.83m]

Therefore, my BMI = 25.3. If I stood in front of a doctor with a BMI of 25.3, he/she would look at a chart and declare me either:

Underweight: Less than 18.5

Healthy weight: 19.0–24.9

Overweight: 25.0–29.9

Obese: Over 30

So, according to the BMI, despite the fact that I am a personal trainer, exercise 4–5 days a week and follow a healthy diet, the doctor could potentially interpret this reading as a sign that I'm getting a little porky and should think about shedding a few pounds.

Although a BMI reading will give a GP a rough idea of how overweight a patient is, true obesity levels should not be determined by what the scales say, but by how much excess body fat you carry. Bathroom scales measure our weight as a whole, from the lunch we have just eaten (or passed), the water in our cells, our fat stores and our muscle mass. Fluid retention alone can easily add a further 2–3kg, potentially pushing someone from the healthy category to overweight status.

As a regular exerciser and someone who enjoys all forms of exercise, from running to rowing to weight training, I am lucky to have a low level of body fat (less than 12%) and a fairly bulky musculature, but according to the BMI system I am verging on unhealthy. I have lost count of the number of clients over the years who have been told their BMI is too high, yet, when I have taken a body-fat reading, they are well within normal limits.

That said, despite its shortfalls, many GPs would argue that it is a quick and easy way to inform some people they are overweight and need to readjust their lifestyle. Time is not a GP's friend, so the BMI provides a practical guide as to what weight most people should be, but it is far from perfect. Due to a lower muscle mass, the BMI is slightly more accurate for women than men but, unless you know you are excessively overweight, if I were you, I'd take my BMI reading with a pinch of salt and I'd advise you to get your body fat measured as well.


The health benefits of olive oil have been known for years, especially in the Mediterranean where the Italians consume it like it's going out of fashion. Olive oil is amonounsaturated fat scientifically proven to offer protection from heart disease, cancer of the colon and helps lower the bad form of cholesterol. The question is, is it good for you if you are on a diet?

What many people seem to forget is that, although there is little dispute that olive oil is good for you, it is still fat. Whether you eat lard, butter or goose fat, fat still contains 9kcal per gram. Although unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, are far healthier and more easily utilised by the body as a source of fuel, a moderate drizzle over your rocket salad and shallow frying with a touch of oil is absolutely fine, but try to avoid being too overzealous.


Excerpted from From Flab to Fab by Graeme Hilditch. Copyright © 2008 Graeme Hilditch. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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