Life & Living

Why exercise alone won’t help you
reach your goals

Chantel Heath

INSTAGRAM: @chantelheathfitness

I’m a 41 year old mother of two girls and one French bulldog, and I’m a Personal Fitness Coach. I work one to one with clients aged 18-80, and have additional specialisms in pre and post natal training, GP exercise referral, cancer rehabilitation and pilates. I also run community fitness classes in the Suffolk coastal area.

You can’t out exercise a bad diet. It’s true. Excessive exercise won’t offset the effects of a poor diet. And I’m not just talking about calories. While it’s true that we need to be mindful of how much we eat, we also need to ensure we are eating the right things to support our health and help in achieving our goals . So if you have started a fitness regime, but aren’t seeing the results you had hoped for, maybe you need to consider some other factors.

If you really want to reach those health and fitness goals my advice is to work smarter, not harder. Here are some simple ways you can achieve that:


1. Having a takeaway because your smart watch says that you burned 600 calories in that spin class? Bad news I’m afraid; smart watch estimates are overly optimistic and very unreliable. In fact it is estimated that for most people meaningful exercise can account for as little as about 5% of our daily calorie use. The good news is that all of our other ‘non exercise’ physical activity can account for as much as 25% of our total daily calorie burn. Which makes perfect sense. A workout lasts an hour, whereas we have around 16 hours each day when we are awake and active, so ample time to move more! This type of movement is known as NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) and you should definitely maximize it! Easy ways to increase your NEAT could be, setting yourself a step target, walking to work, using the upstairs toilet instead of downstairs, tackling those house and garden tasks you’ve been putting off. They may seem like tiny things, but they all add up!


2. Stop doing exercise you hate just because you’ve been told it burns lots of calories! Don’t think of exercise as something you MUST do to burn calories. Instead remember it is something you are lucky enough to be able to do to keep your body healthy. Choose exercise that you enjoy and are likely to be consistent with.


3. Portion sizes and mindful eating – Often have food left on your plate? Feel stuffed after your meal? Both signs that your servings are too big! Aim to eat until you are 80% full, not until you are stuffed or uncomfortable. Stopping when you are satisfied rather than when you are stuffed will help to reduce your overall calorie intake.


4. Protein –  Key for growth and repair in all areas of the body from muscles to skin, nails and hormones. If you are wanting to build muscle, or tone up, protein is key to doing this. It includes most meat and fish, plain greek yoghurt, pulses and tofu. Protein also helps us to feel full for longer as it takes longer for our bodies to digest, so you’re less likely to reach for snacks! Aim for a quarter of the food on your plate at every meal to be protein.


5. Fats – No, they don’t make you fat. They are actually essential to support many functions of the body including protecting organs, blood clotting, wound healing and inflammation. We also are unable to absorb fat-soluble vitamins without it. However fats are very calorie-dense, with more than double the calories per gram than carbs or protein. Fats include things like oils that we cook with, butter and avocado! It is recommended that you limit fats to a thumb sized serving at each meal.


6. Carbohydrates – They are not the enemy, in fact they are our body’s primary energy source, and our brain’s preferred energy source. Most starchy carbs like rice, bread and potatoes are very calorie dense, meaning we can consume a lot of calories from a relatively small serving. So you absolutely do need carbs, but in the right proportions. As a general guide, aim for around a quarter of the food on your plate to be carbohydrate. And start paying attention to the recommended serving size on the packet rather than going by eye, I guarantee you are probably eating at least twice the suggested amount!


7. Colourful and leafy vegetables. Ok, so technically vegetables are carbohydrates, however they are very low density in terms of calories, so you can fill your tummy with lots of nutritious veg, for very few calories. Vegetables provide lots of essential vitamins and minerals which help to support many functions in our bodies and support our immune systems. Aim for around half of your plate to be veg and eat the rainbow!

Eat the rainbow!

I recommend healthy portions plates like this one for my clients – to help ensure they are eating all the food groups in the appropriate proportions.

Have an oaty good start…

Overnight Oats

This is a great way to start the day, fill you up and avoid snacking on the way to lunch. Once you have tried this a few times you will soon be adapting it with alternate ingredients to suit your taste. Just remember not to get caught in the trap of adding in too many sugars.


50g rolled porridge oats

100ml milk

2 tbsp plain greek yoghurt

50g mixed berries

drizzle of honey

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tbsp almond butter


Start off the night before by stirring the cinnamon and 100ml milk (alternatively you can use water) into your oats with a pinch of salt and then leave overnight in the fridge.

The next day, loosen with a little more milk and then top with the yogurt. Now add the mixed berries of your choosing with a drizzle of honey and the almond butter.