Exercise – personal experience

I’ve just got back from a week’s skiing in Italy, so here’s a blog on my experience of doing more activity than normal.

Andy and I normally share 3 dog walks a day. We always do the morning half hour together and Andy generally does the night walk and then whoever is able to do a lunchtime half hour does so. Andy, therefore, usually walks 60-90 minutes a day and I walk 30-60 mins a day. The walks are up and down gradients, as we live in the countryside, but nothing that steep. I go swimming about 3-4 times a month for 20 mins each time (and am always hungry afterwards!) We are both generally active, as we have loads of energy from eating well. We do our own cleaning (and notice your arms aching if you clean the windows and your stomach muscles working if you mop the floor etc) and we garden every now and again (it’s quite low maintenance).

The first observation is that you don’t need to go to the gym to get skiing fit. We were in pretty good shape just from our general active lifestyle and regular walking. Plus there are some muscles that only seem to get used skiing, no matter what, so you’re always going to be a bit stuffed!

The second observation is that you don’t use up as much energy as you might think! I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me earlier, but I was skiing one morning and suddenly thought that the exercise calculators take into account BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). Hence, if watching TV requires 68 cals an hour (this is the calculation for a 140lb/10 stone person) and moderate walking burns 200 calories an hour (for the same person), then going for a walk should really be viewed as the additional energy needed beyond doing nothing (i.e. 130 calories in this case). I understand that Weight Watchers lets people have an additional 4 points if they jog for 20 mins. This is approximately 200 calories and it is quite UNlikely that someone would use 200 calories in 20 mins jogging ABOVE what they would need anyway pottering around the house or being at work.

The calorie calculator says that I (at 110lbs) would need 299 calories (bit precise!) for 1 hour of moderate skiing (in between light and intense). Remember that it takes about 2-3 hrs to do 1 hrs skiing as you spend 5 mins going down a run and then 10 mins sitting on the lift going back up. AND we need to think about what we would have been doing otherwise. I would be using about half this number of calories in an hour of thinking/researching/calculating etc, so I was only adding about 150-200 calories every 3 hours to my fuel need. Then you see people tucking in to a huge pizza or huge bowl of white pasta for lunch and you know they are likely to go home heavier than they arrived.

The third interesting observation was that you get really hungry on a ski holiday! People often say the fresh (mountain) air makes you hungry – I can’t think why this would be – but skiing for a morning does make you hungry. For a carb addict, it would be very easy to consume significantly more energy at meal times than had been used up. For people who stick to real food, it is far more difficult to overeat. Andy and I had porridge and whole milk for breakfast; wholegrain bread, cheese and salad for lunch (mixing good foods) and a huge fat meal in the evening –  (meat for Andy), fish, seafood, loads of salads and veg, loads of cheese, berries & cream etc. We snacked on dark chocolate continuously, which leads to….

The fourth interesting observation – as I’ve often said – eating for weight loss and eating for exercise/fitness are really not compatible. Because there were so few good carbs available (no couscous, brown rice, whole meal pasta etc), we probably didn’t get enough carbohydrate loaded into our glycogen store room. The porridge and bread helped (and we had a few croissants), but it wasn’t always enough. Even at this moderate level of exercise, we hit a burn a couple of times and we were eating dark chocolate regularly throughout the day and also getting lots of milk in (decaf) cappuccinos throughout the day. Had we been doing some of the exercise that some of my clients try to do (training for marathons, 3-5 hour mountain cycle rides etc), I hate to think what kind of state we would have been in! If you are very active, the body wants lots of regular carbs several times a day. If you are trying to lose weight the body should have carbs as INfrequently as possible. The two could not be more different!

For interest, we were the same weight when we got home and slightly lower in body fat content, so we would have swapped a bit of fat for muscle (there had to be some impact on leg muscles from all that pain!)

Other observations:

– obesity in Italy is a fraction of what it is in the UK. Even in the towns and airport on the way it was rare to see an obese person. We travelled from Geneva through France and into Italy and all three countries were similarly slim.

– the (lack of) snack food is the single biggest difference in Europe. The shops just do not have aisles of crisps, biscuits, cakes, sweets etc. There are a few ‘junk’ options scattered around the shop, but the supermarkets are full of fruit, veg, meat, risotto rice, grains, cheese etc. The newsagent type shops sometimes have no confectionery on sale whatsoever. You can buy your paper or magazine, but there are no confectionery bars to tempt you. People eat three big, healthy meals a day and they just don’t snack.

21 thoughts on “Exercise – personal experience

  • Hi all

    I’m following the first few days phase 1 to try and reduce candida, although I don’t think it is so simplistic. Still trying to get my head around the exercise won’t lose you weight thing, because I know lots of people who exercise and have lost weight, so struggling with that one. In the end, it is only another opinion. Forks over Knives says NO oil, no meat, only vegan and this is the ONLY way to be healthy and maintain healthy weight. So much conflicting advice its hard to know who to believe.

  • The hunger increase after Skiing and swimming is due to heat loss. The calories used to maintain your body temperature during these activities (especially swimming) also need to be factored in. This is why Michael Phelps used to need 12000 calories a day, Ray Cronise does some really interesting work around this.

  • I really don’t understand what you re writhing about european country, i’m belgian and there is tons of junk foods, snacks, everywhere…

  • Zoe,I have also been thinking about

    “150-200 calories every 3 hours”

    That would be an extra 450 kcals over nine hours. Which is quite a lot when you think about it.

    The whole ski holiday thing is a very unique situation. Most people are more active during that week than they are at any other time of the year.

    You sleep less on ski holidays in my experience. You are up at 8am for breakfast and often don’t got to bed until after 11pm/12am.

    You have lug odd shaped equipment about with you. Taking a pee in mountain restaurant is like an assult course as you often have to navigate mutliple stairs.

    I also wonder what are the energy levels spent on just keeping your body temperature regulated.

    I don’t know many people who eat Pizza on a ski holiday (maybe in Italy you would but in France and Austria you will pretty much be fed on meat and cheese. Great for feeding the muscles but my point being is most will be eating less processed foods on these hols than they would at home. So what may look like a large amount may actually be less Kcals because they are eating whole foods.

    Also the notion that 150-200kcals is a small amount. That could easily be enough kcal intake difference for someone looking to lose 1lb a week or gain 1lb a week (if building muscle).

    P.S Lucy how can you be ‘fat’ at 173cms and 65kgs?

  • Have to say I completely disagree with your sentence “don’t need to go to the gym to get skiing fit. ”

    Apart from skiing itself I would say the gym is the only way to get ski-fit for your holidays.

    Every year when I hit the slopes I see these people huffing and puffing and complaining of sore muscles at the end of the day.

    If they just went down the gym for two months prior and do proper resistance training you could not imagine the difference it would make.

    Even one squat session a week progressing every week until your hols would make such a difference.

    And as for the comment “Then you see people tucking in to a huge pizza or huge bowl of white pasta for lunch and you know they are likely to go home heavier than they arrived”.

    These “people” are usually just replicating what they do at home. Just like the do on a summer holiday…they over eat because they can and because they have this “oh Im on holiday attitude”. A disfunctional relationship with food if you like.

  • Very interesting about the exercise. I have been a low carber for over 40 years. Was overweight from age 9. Gradually got a lot of weight off in my 20’s. However no advice around in those days. Just avoided carbs -was all I knew. Exercise other than steady dog walks, (swimming especially) makes me so hungry. Need the swimming for arthritis. Think must get your book to sort out carb meals and so on. It’s never too late to learn. So will order the new one in the morning. I am a fan of Barry Groves and Gary Taubes. With much interest, Sue.

    • Hi SueW – Barry and Gary are two of my heros and are credited as such at the front of the book. I sent them both a copy of my book to review and Barry incredibly kindly replied. His review is now on the back cover! If you like those – you should love “The Obesity Epidemic”. Dog walks and carb management will stand you in great stead! Keep doing well and being well
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  • hi.. i’m lucy and i’m 16 years.. i want lose weight because I’m high 1,73 but i’m fat (my weight is 65.) and i don’t know how to lose weight… help me please… thanks.

    • Hi Lucy,
      The best place to get support for any questions that you may have is over at The Harcombe Diet Club, There’s a free forum there with loads of very experienced and helpful members.
      Kind regards

  • I find that i can exercise with more energy when havng a nut and meat feeding about 1 – 1 1/2 hours before exercising. It keeps blood sugars very stable during exercise and also helps to minimise a loss in lean mass.

    If you are exercising regularly then taking a BCAA supplement before and during your workout helps, see advice from charles poliquin or john berardi for more info. But it works for me and i train at least 4 times per week, so i dont think that exercise induces carb bcravings if you prepare.

    Great website by the way, another good resource to direct some of my clients to.

  • Hey MT – do come and join us in the club – the girls would love it and they are so great at helping with queries. My hubby, Andy, is in there regularly and there are a few other blokes.
    Andy is thinking of setting up an “only men allowed” area – would this help? We do want to help men too and want to find the best way of doing this.
    Bye for now – Zoe

  • Thanks for the answers Zoe, I have joined the forum and will maybe continue the thread there. Seems quite female dominated but looking forward to sharing experiences etc. Having once been very fit and understand “diet” over the last couple of years I have been fully aware of my changes in eating habits for the worse!

    Anyway I will continue this on the forum.

  • Hi Zoë

    Great article, as a keen skier myself and cyclist who is currently over weight and about to start phase 1 of your plan I am very interested how in phase 2 I can commence training on my bike. I assumed carbs are required to endurance training and on the bike some ride require fuel. Do you have any simple suggestions to help me train whilst doing phase 2?

    Really looking forward to trying you plan, makes a lot of practical sense.

    Many Thanks


    • Hi MT – many thanks for your lovely comments. Please check out, as we’ve just set up a free chat room for this kind of debate – I won’t be checking these blogs much longer!

      I did some tips for someone else struggling to exercise and lose weight (skiing I can understand, but I’ve never ‘got’ marathons or cycling, or anything painful!). Here they are:

      1) Cut back on the sport! Seriously – this is the top tip for weight loss with ‘exercise enthusiasts’. A couple of people have tried this and been baffled at how well they have done! There are loads of good reasons to exercise, so it’s a trade off between the benefits of exercise and the carb/sugar cravings that will likely follow. I am never a fan of intense exercise (marathons, cycling up hill 3-5 hours at a time – dog walking and gardening are more ‘normal’). If it’s moderate, healthy exercise then it’s a great thing to do – but it will likely mess up eating and weight management.

      2) If you need to lose weight, the conflict will be head to head: weight loss means fewer carbs and less often; exercise wants more carbs and more often. It really is your choice which suffers.

      3) If you do want to keep the exercise going – try more carb meals (still only good carbs – porridge, baked potatoes, brown rice etc) and time them to work with the training e.g. have a carb evening meal to build up glycogen stores overnight and then have a carb breakfast if exercising in the morning (breakfast would need to be very early – before the activity) or a carb lunch if exercising in the afternoon/early evening. The other meal should be a fat meal to avoid 3 carb meals a day. You should have ‘rest’ days, so try for more fat meals those days – unless you need the evening meal to load the night before.

      4) Final tip – have oat biscuits and bananas to hand when exercising and get to know when the ‘low’ is going to come and get used to having the banana or biscuit (banana is best, but some people can only manage a dry biscuit when they are exercising) before the crash, to divert the sugar cravings.

      The anthropological fact is that man actually did very little exercise – he needed to conserve energy and hunting needed to be as efficient as possible. More food had to be gathered than expended in getting it was the live or die principle. He then sat around and painted caves! It is only because man has decided he knows better than mother nature and has started producing cheap, horrific, processed rubbish that we have an obesity epidemic. Man got his energy from fat/protein quite happily in the past, because he didn’t cycle for hours at a time! I’m really not sure some of the exercise we do today is ‘natural’ and the food we fill the supermarkets with certainly isn’t!

      Look forward to seeing you in the club! Zoe x

  • Hi Zoe,

    that is a kind of fun to see you on my laptop!
    All looks great. Big succsess for your biz!!!


  • Hi Zoe,

    Very interesting article! I don’t have a lot more weight to lose – really just a few pounds so that I look trim in my wedding dress this summer :-) I followed Phase 1 of your diet a few months ago where I sucessfully lost (and kept off) 5lbs and am now flitting between Phase 2 and 3!
    As a keen dancer, gym go-er and dog walker, I found that I needed to do my exercise within a couple of hours of eating a “carb” meal: It was virtually impossible to do a strenuous workout a couple of hours after a “fat” meal as I simply didn’t have the energy. It all makes sense though, I now make a point of eating “real foods” and I am eternally grateful that I came across your book in time for my big day!!

  • I enjoyed reading this blog. However, I was confused that you drank full fat milk with your porridge. I thought that you were to drink the fat free milk with cereals. Was this because of the skiing?


    • Hi Sara – it’s because we’re in Phase 3! And have been for 10-15 years. Mixing is one of the fun things to do in Phase 3, although we do also have fat meals or pure carb meals quite regularly too. You just can’t get skimmed milk in Italy. I swear if you asked for a ‘skinny cap’ in a Mediterranean country they would look at you like you needed your head testing! They just eat real food all the time – and that’s why they’re generally slim!
      Ciao – Zoe

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