Too Good To Be True .. Part 1

Our Unique Gym and Healthy Eating

So this is a post aimed to educate and amuse you, just a little.  Matt pokes fun at his ‘foolish’ assumptions about food and exercise over the years and tries to give a few suggestions to help us all be better informed.  We hope you enjoy it.


I have been using DuoLingo to restart my attempts at learning Japanese.  Recently, they seem to have done an update and now I get little motivational messages popping up intra-session.

I am not finding them so useful.

For example, getting 10 correct in a row earns me a little congratulatory message, and I like it!  Unfortunately, with the way lessons are structured I often get presented with a new word I have never had before and with no hints or explanations.  I can either guess and get it wrong or I cheat with google.  The thought of both leaves me momentarily traumatised.  My good run gets ruined – or I maintain it but know that I cheated.

I am learning to just get it wrong and start the process of learning a new word that way!

One message enrages me: “failure is the best way to learn”.  It kind of assumes that we all have the same mind-set .. but rather than ramble on about my own life long issues with failure, it did trigger the thought about how I have got it wrong so many times with food and exercise!

Generally (but not exclusively) we are talking about before I was a coach – falling for the hype or marketing into thinking things were better than they really are.  What is valuable for me, though, is that it allows me to empathise with many of the clients we coach at Ninth Wave that to this day fall foul of the same things I did or that get caught out by similar tricks.

From a position of knowledge, it is easy to see and (occasionally) roll one’s eyes at how ‘foolish’ people seem and how easily duped they are.  It is at that point I remind myself of my own history, get my ego in check, and start to educate people on the issues instead.

Still, I thought it may amuse you to hear about some of the ridiculous things I believed.  And maybe DuoLingo was right – these fails that I made not only helped me be more inquisitive and learn more, but they can now help (or amuse) you too.

Since I was smiling most of the time I was writing this – I will be getting the other coaches to post up a few of theirs too, in subsequent parts.

Too Good To Be True #1: Sugar

It tried to locate it but was not surprised that I could not find any evidence of an old advert for sugar in the UK.  It may have been in the late 80’s or 90’s – but I remember seeing white mounds of pure, beautiful white sugar. I recall being told it was natural and a great source of energy while we saw sun blessed fields of sugar cane being harvested by happy farmers.  I suspect there was reference to it being low in fat, though I cannot be sure.

What I can be sure of though, was that as relatively young person I was completely taken in.

If I ate less fat that would be a good thing – eat fat, get fat – right?  It gave me the green light to enjoy snakes alive (well, the UK equivalent) as a better treat than peanut butter and maybe to have two bowls of Sugar Puffs because if I used skimmed milk barely a drop of fat would be consumed.  All natural.  All good.

Ludicrous – but good marketing, though I doubt people would stand for it now .. or would they (see Milo below).

This one is so bad that I don’t even have a helpful educational twist as I do for some of the others.  Just know, that your children (and maybe you) are very susceptible to marketing messages and they simply don’t have the capacity to think, evaluate, and decide for themselves.  I thought sugar was fine for a very long time.

What they do have is a capacity for ‘wanting’ something – so be warned – the more your children see adverts for fast food, sweets, drinks, cereals and most of the things we know aren’t so good for us, the more they are going to want them and the harder your job as a parent becomes.

Take home points.  1) Sugar is natural – but so is cyanide!  Natural is meaningless in most conversations about healthy eating and is a marketing tool to fool us.  

Too Good To Be True #2: Milo

…and nutri-grain, granolas, coco-pops, weetbix, special-K etc.

I moved to Australia late 2002.  I was 28, had been working for an investment bank, and had come here to do an MBA – but had put on several kilos in my last few stressful months in Japan and wanted to lose some of this too.

I was going to hit the gym with a drive I hadn’t had since I was 18 at university – and I remembered how good ‘protein’ shakes were back then at helping me put on muscle.

Then, my eye or ear was caught by an advert for Milo and I found myself buying some.  It tasted great and it was high in protein! I don’t think it took me long to figure out, but closer inspection of the labels and some maths opened my eyes to the fact that everything good about Milo came entirely from the milk.  It was too good to be true.  Never would I drink a glass of milk and add sugar to it – and yet that was pretty much what Milo was.  Yes, it had vitamins, yes it was low in fat (if you had skimmed milk), yes it had some protein – but that was all from the milk.

Fast forward to 2017 and now we have health star rating where Milo gets 4.5 stars but if you examine the product only (no milk) it would get 1.5.  The industry body defends Nestle in this by saying that the law states that the health labelling should include how the product should be served.  I am only surprised they don’t put blueberries around the edge of the glass to up the antioxidant content too.


Add milk to this glass and it wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

Maybe most of you knew this (?). Maybe 15 years on and we aren’t fooled by this sort of thing (?)  But given the amount of people buying sugar infused muesli and almost any Kellogg’s breakfast cereal you could mention – my feeling is that clever marketing still gets through to us.  Yes – even your healthy breakfast cereals are made ‘healthier’ by simply adding milk to them, which is where a lot of the beneficial nutrients on the labels comes from!

So, take home points.  1) Matt has proven to be pretty easily influenced by marketing.  2) Read the labels on the back, look at the product on its own and nutrients by the 100g.  Compare that to other products to judge for yourself how ‘good’ something is. 3) If it tastes too good to be true _________

Too Good To Be True #3: Swimming

I moved to England in 2004 (I think) having had nearly two years of a relatively active life and relatively low on stress.  Studying and surfing suited me.

3 months back home in ‘the black country’ without work, playing a little tennis, and drinking with an old school friend though, saw the waistline nudge up and up.

Moving to London, working in Canary Wharf, and having access to beautiful gyms (The Reebok gym in Canary Wharf was fantastic) meant I was going to lean up again and fast.  But what to do ..

I did a little bit of everything but for some reason (and work colleagues thought this was true too) getting up ridiculously early* and swimming before work was deemed to be the best choice.

I even took lessons.  I was a competent swimmer already and surf fitness was quite high but I wanted to maximise the benefits so I got coached in a different style of swimming – Total Immersion**.

Learning to ‘float’, to be streamlined in the water, to drive through the water with grace and little effort, even to be able to swim while wearing gloves that forced your hand into a fist (yes, fist gloves, I really did go to a pool wearing rubber fist gloves), was enlightening.  Swimming felt awesome.

So, I did some more.  20 mins 3 times a week became 40 mins.  I think I got up to an hour.  I think I started going more often.  I was getting better and better at swimming and I was doing more and more – I even felt guilty if I didn’t make it some mornings.

And there it is.  The same mistakes I try so hard to help our clients avoid.  The mistake almost every motivated exerciser will make.  The mistakes that use all of our motivation but don’t get us what we want!

I didn’t lose any appreciable weight.  I became efficient at swimming.  I got better because it made it easier.  My heart rate was lower because I was trying to last for longer rather than push harder and because I didn’t get the result I wanted, I kept adding more laps and time and sessions!

If there is one thing I am certain of as a coach – is that we should not use exercise as the primary tool when we want to lose body fat.  What and how much you eat are the biggest stick we have and they should be sharpened first.  Get your intake right and almost any exercise will work!

There should not be a need to train for more than 4 hours a week.  Exercise can be used to facilitate the fat loss process but when you use it for that – it should be inefficient, challenging, and more often we should look at doing more in the same or less time – not just adding junk miles to our tally.

Swimming is actually a great recreational exercise and I would recommend it to help improve some facets of a client’s health (I love it for calming the mind, getting more efficient with oxygen, unloading joints, and for getting away with wearing rubber fist gloves in public!).

Take away points. 1) For fat loss, food is the weapon of choice.  2) For accelerating fat loss, once it is happening, resistance training done hard and fast is the optimal choice for most people as every variable can be controlled 3) With health and fitness, if all your friends and family think it is a good idea – it probably isn’t.  

Look out for part two where I might discuss Protein Shakes, why I avoid the nicest tasting milk, happy cows and bad fats, super foods and soy milk.

If you are interested in our honest, practical, and proven ways of coaching people, contact us here and we can book a time for you to come in and chat to us.

*early was being in the pool by 6:30 or 07:00.  Finished, showered, and eating a canteen breakfast by 08:30 and then at work by 09:00.  My poor, poor clients that train with me now at 05:30 am … I just didn’t know what early really was …
**Total Immersion is a beautiful way to swim: efficient, graceful, technical, and a great way to reduce stress.  But it is the antithesis of what we would do to stimulate fat loss via exercise