Saturday, 24 December 2016

Post 38: Cowlean at Christmas

Hi Guys,

Let’s set the scene for a traditional Cowlean Christmas: “serves 14” Turkey is doling itself up in the kitchen, the mother is clucking around ensuring all glasses are full, and the plastic Christmas tree is proudly proclaiming its immortality from the corner of the living room once more. It’s humbling to know that whether or not I leave a mark on this world as large as I hope, that this tree will outlast my legacy.

This week we’re going to discuss Christmas; we’re going to discuss all the great things you can look out for, why you shouldn’t feel guilty for stuffing your face, and how to put together some effective New Year’s resolutions.

So pull up your Christmas socks, whack on that hideous jumper, pour a glass of mulled wine, and banish the relatives from your yuletide presence. It’s time to listen to Cowlean wax lyrical about the most magical time of year....

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid (of gluttony)

There’s a riddle I ponder every year, something that swirls in my mind and gets turned over and over until my poor brain is wracked with confusion: why is it that turkey is so delicious and juicy at Christmas, but is dry and unpalatable the year round?! Christmas represents the one time of year where this delectable beast is in wonderful abundance, so look no further for your protein source. I recommend eating at least a heap a day, if not two heapings! ;)

Christmas is also a special time for fats. It is the one time of year where your previously uncooperative family and friends jump on the fat wagon and join you for a festive gallivant. No, I’m not referring to the extra pounds you’ll carry once it’s all said and done, I’m talking about the wonderful world of animal fats and real butter. So make sure that those roast potatoes are cooked in goose fat, and that you’re using rich, creamy pure Irish butter (we all know which one I’m referencing…).

And for all those lifters out there, don’t just spend all your time at the pumps, pump some iron as well! All of that food is ideal for making some strength gains or at least getting into the gym a couple of times and doing some crazy one rep max tests.

All I want for Christmas is carbs

If your year was a pressure cooker, building up steam, then Christmas is the time to let that steam off. Forget the diet and forget the rules (rules are only guidelines after all!). Let your hair down and indulge yourself to the extreme. While I do think that an initial period of immersion is good for a budding dieter, Christmas is not the time for it. Much like how someone might have a weekly cheat meal, Christmas is my “cheat time”.

If you let yourself get guilty over the holiday period for indulging, then you’re setting yourself up for unsustainable purging in the new year. This leads to yet more pressure, and eventually more binging.

You can build pressure as long as you know you can let it out at some point: take the Yin with the Yang. Periods of intense focus and output need to be matched with periods of relaxation where you rest and recover. Just think about how important sleep is in building muscle.

So this is me giving you permission to go nuts. Eat all the food and drink you’ve denied yourself over the past 12 months and become the glutton you’ve always dreamed of.

This is what I’m planning on doing, and did do to great effect last year. In fact, over the Christmas week I gained a staggering 17 pounds. Admittedly, this was after a long period of caloric deficit and low water retention, but still! As always, I look at the positives of the situation (and conveniently forget the negatives), and take this opportunity each year to blow off steam, refill glycogen stores, and remember how it feels to be bloated.

Last Christmas I went my own way, but the very next day, I was sat eating cake

You might have heard of two conflicting schools of thought in goal setting. One school says goal should be SMART (specific, measureable, agreed upon, realistic and time based), and the other says that you should set your sights further than your grasp. Now, in most cases, I don’t enjoy the SMART school of thought because it encourages mediocre goals, but it has some useful ideas when it comes to NYR setting.

Every year you’ll hear your friends and family prattle on about their resolutions and deep down you know they will not fulfil 99% of them. This is why, dear readers, we need to approach them strategically because they can set the year off on a wonderful, successful note.

Most people make them intense and rigid: “I will quit X” or “I will do Y five times a week”. Unfortunately, this doesn’t lead to success because once the resolution is disobeyed once, the whole thing falls apart like a house of cards.

My advice is to look at what you’ve done well this year and pick out your top three to six accomplishments. Choose one of these accomplishments and make it the subject of your NYR. Make the NYR something that can be achieved in January itself so that you get the year started right.

For example (and since this a health blog):
  1. Lose the weight you’ve gained over Christmas. Weigh yourself today and on January 1st do the same, then work out how much you need to lose each week.
  2. Commit to a strict fasting window twice a week. Twice should be easily achievable if you followed the CKA series (Up sell! Up sell!)
  3. Or simply read a book about health. I find that whatever I’m reading at the time massively influences my daily thoughts and motivation. Some personal favourites are The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, The Bulletproof Diet by Dave Asprey, and The Wild Diet by Abel James.


This bring us to the end of another post. I’m heading off to stuff my face, as promised, but before I go let’s have some takeaways.

  1. Christmas is full of positives in the food it entails so be on the lookout!
  2. Don’t at any point feel guilty for indulging yourself over the festive period.
  3. Get 2017 off on the right foot; set yourself a goal to achieve in January

Until next time,


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Post 37: Cowlean's Kickstart Advice - Finishing Touches Part 2

Hi Guys,

Welcome to this week’s post, part six (get me!) and the finale of the Cowlean Kickstart Advice series. This series was designed to help people snap out of their previous state and get started, to take some action, and begin seeing the pounds melt away. This week we continue with the final touch by adding in a little supplementation.

I’ve linked to all previous episodes of this series above, as well as my older post on my top three supplements. Each week we’ve added something new and at the end of this post I take a look at dieting concepts which I’ve been thinking about for a while now.

This week, just introduce these three supplements and class is dismissed for Christmas.

Vitamin D

You can get vitamin D from roughly 30 minutes of direct sunlight exposure each day, but you just won’t get enough unless you live in a very sunny country. If you’re like me and live in the UK, you definitely want to be supplementing with vitamin D.

Benefits include immune support, improved sleep, and better hormone regulation.

Take 1000 IU per day for every 25 lbs of bodyweight.


Iodine can be found in sea kelp, seaweed, and iodised salt, but again you just won’t get enough for it to be worth it. Save yourself some time and pick up some sea kelp tablets. Iodine is particularly good for dieting because it supports your metabolism, which will naturally slow after a period of being in a caloric deficit. In my post on my top supplements, I give a full overview of why you should supplement with iodine.

Benefits include immune support, thyroid production levels, and metabolism.

Take 1 mg per day.

Vitamin C

Just like iodine, you can get vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, but just not enough. C is another supplement I covered in my previous post (another reason to check it out!). It is amazingly cheap: I’ve had over a year’s supply for less than £20. Another great use for having it around is that when you get ill, you can up your daily dose considerably and actively fight illness.

Benefits include immune support and antioxidant production (vital for anti-aging)

Take 1-2g a day.

N.B. have you noticed that in each case, immune support is one of the benefits? This isn’t just by chance: when you become healthy, you give your body the tools to fight illness and heal itself. It’s not about directly fighting the infection, it’s about setting up an environment where the body takes care of itself.

What next?

Over the past six weeks we’ve covered a lot of topics: food, exercise (including the meals themselves), fasting, and now supplements. If you revisit the earlier posts, you’ll see that I mention that by following the advice of post 1, you’ll achieve up to 80% of your results, and I stand by that statement still.

Each week we’ve gone further up the pyramid, and each change you make will lead to smaller results than the previous change you made. It sounds depressing, but it doesn’t have to be. First of all, if you’ve followed the advice up to now, you’ll know that it’s easy to make the changes that have the most effect.

You’ve also got the framework you need to take your results even further. For example, if you reduced rather than eliminate gluten, grains, and industrial oils in week 1, then you can revisit the food part of this series and go the whole hog. Similarly, if at the exercise stage you just did the walking (which I also maintain is all you need!), then you could add in the strength based training as well.

At each stage there are opportunities to improve, just set yourself another task for the week coming and achieve it. Keep at this process until you’ve got the results you desire. If you’ve tried all six stages and are out of ideas, shoot me a message and we can work something out.

Writing this series has actually made my mind wonder back to my training in economics, how I internalised that system of thought, and now bring it to the health and fitness table. There’s the concept of low hanging fruit: pursue the easiest alternatives first. That’s why I started by introducing the simple changes to your food which have the biggest effect.

Another concept is the law of diminishing returns: as a tool is further utilised it returns less. That’s why each week you bring in something new, because beating a dead horse and endlessly exercising, for example, is less effective.


Well then, that brings us to the conclusion of our little series. Next week we’ll be back to a long form post where I’m going to be eulogising our diets as they go through their festive deaths, only to be reborn in the new year with great enthusiasm. I’ll look at what’s great about Christmas food-wise, why you shouldn’t feel as guilty as you may well do, and how to set appropriate and achievable resolutions.

Before we hobble off to scoff more mince pies, here’s this week’s takeaways:

  1. Introduce these three supplements this week
  2. Revisit each stage of the kickstart series and add something to your previous efforts
  3. Pat yourself on the back for following the series, and implementing the changes. Look at your recorded results and realise you did this.

Until next time,


Monday, 12 December 2016

Post 36: Cowlean's Kickstart Advice - Finishing Touches Part 1

Links referenced in this post:

Hi Guys,

Welcome to part five of six of the kickstart series. This week and next we’re adding the finishing touches on the plan. These are two tips and tools which will be the cherry on top of your efforts (figuratively speaking of course).

This week we introduce a little bit of IF (intermittent fasting) which I’ve spoken about before in my post all about the different types and effects of fasting. For the deeper analysis and description, check out that post, but we cover the absolute basics here as well.

In my experience, adding even just a little bit of fasting is a game changer, and I heartily recommend it. People I’ve coached have used it to great effect and what’s good is that you don’t need to go nuts either. One or two days a week is going to let you extend the results you’ve been earning up to this point.

What’s the point?

The essential argument behind adding some fasting into your diet, even if you don’t amend the amount or content of the food you eat, lies in ketosis. Ketosis is the state your body goes into where it burns mostly fat and you most commonly enter this state overnight when not eating anything. Your body needs fuel, so it turns to its internal stores of energy for sustenance.

The problem is that most people are interrupting this state with a carby breakfast like cereal or toast, just when the best effects are starting to kick in. This is because we don’t start to get into that proper fat burning zone until after 12-14 hours of not eating any carbs. Carbohydrates interrupt the fat burning state because the body wants to use sugar instead, rather than decrease it’s survival chance by using precious internal energy.

So as well as using fasting to boost your fat burning, other benefits include the fact that it is cheap and there is no time required to prepare morning meals.

What do I need to do?

This week’s instructions are too simple: for one day a week, stop eating at 8pm one night, and resume eating at midday the next day.

As I said in my fasting post, it is less of a stressor on men than women, so if you’re a man with a lot of fat to lose, go ahead and do two non-consecutive fasting days a week. That’s really all you need at this point.

Don’t change anything about what you’re going to eat on those days, but if you’re feeling good and you want the benefits to continue for even longer, then eat only proteins and fats at your midday meal. This will keep you in the fat burning state.

If you are hungry in the fasting window, then snack on pure fat foods like avocados or make yourself a bulletproof coffee with butter. Also, make sure you stay well hydrated. During the fasting window you can have as much tea, herbal tea, and  black coffee as you want, but enjoy decaf if you’re sensitive.

During this time, always keep in mind that you have food located on your body already. That’s why you built fat stores in the first place, and the more often you fast the quicker and more efficient your body will be at using these stores. It will start to feel effortless.

I also couldn’t leave without having a rant at the phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”! It’s fallacious and illogical; designed by marketers to sell you a product. Check out the fasting post for a full description of why this is one of the most silly concepts in health and nutrition.


So chuck this little trick in this week, and you’ll be happy and surprised with the results! This week’s takeaways:

  1. Fast one day a week, or 2 if you’re a man with a lot of fat to lose
  2. If you feel hungry in the fasting window, eat a fatty snack or use drinks to stave off the hunger
  3. Challenge your internal ideas about breakfast; is what you know just a marketing opportunity?!

Until next time,


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Post 35: Cowlean's Kickstart Advice - Dinners

Hi Guys,

I hope you’re all doing well, are looking forward to Christmas, and have been making the yuletide gay. This is post four of the kickstart series (links: part 0, part 1, part 2, part 3; got to do that cheesy up-sell!) of what will be a six part series ( and some umming and ahh-ing I finally decided six was the right number to cover everything a beginner needs know). Part five is going to add in a tiny bit of fasting (a really tiny amount; on the same scale as exercise), and part six will be an equally small addition of supplements to plug any nutritional gaps.

That takes up the next two weeks, with a special Cowlean Christmas post all set for Christmas Eve. In that episode, I’ll be providing some tips to get you through Christmas, but also I’ll be discussing why Christmas shouldn’t make you feel as guilty as you might think.

So together with today’s post, you actually have the full set of meals: part 3 of this series covered lunches, and way back in June I covered breakfasts (link for that one). Don’t pretend that I don’t treat you guys! It’s Christmas, and my sack of gifts is overflowing…

The instructions for this week are again, very simple. In fact, exactly the same as last week. Just include each of these three meals at one point during the week. I’ve made sure that they’re really easy to make, and ones you can safely make for other people will no objections. In most part, they’re my take on old classics.

With a few small changes, you can make any dish healthy.

In each case, I’ve included a “perfect health”/low carb (LH/LC) option which you can swap in if you want to, and remember to enjoy these with unlimited veg and healthy fats (e.g. coconut oil, grass-fed butter).

Gammon, Egg and Chips

This is an old classic and ultimately there’s nothing wrong with it. Use whatever meat you like, I find steak works pretty handily as well! ;) This meals shows, again, that with a few simple changes, you can make it healthy. In this case, all you need to do is remove the industrial oils.

Rather than deep frying the chips (hence introducing industrial oils) or using frozen ones (introducing preservatives plus industrial oils), bake them in the oven. If you want you can also let them cool which raises the resistant starch content, leading to higher fibre and extra food for healthy gut bacteria.

Use coconut oil to coat the chips for baking together with salt and pepper, and fry the gammon and eggs using grass-fed butter.

PH/LC version: upgrade the white potatoes to sweet potatoes, a cleaner carb source. Cut the sweet potatoes thinly and bake for 30 minutes for delicious, crisp chips.

Homemade curry

This is another simple classic which can be made into a delicious and healthy meal, by taking away the pre-made sauce and the gluten and grains from the naans. The simple act of cleaning up your diet to focus on whole, natural foods, is undeniably powerful. Just combine good ingredients and eat until you’re full.

You can make the sauce in one of two ways. The slow way will create an amazing flavour but hours of revisiting the pot. In the slow way: slowly caramelise the onions in some ghee, turn the heat up and seal your meat, reduce the heat, then add tomatoes, and spices such as chilli, cumin,and ginger. Add each spice, let the flavours marinate for twenty minutes, then return  to add another spice. Once all the spices are combined, pop in all the rest of your veg and prepare your rice to serve.

In the quick way, get your onions on a low heat in some butter/ghee for tens minutes, then do the same with the meat and seal it. Add tinned tomatoes and spices, let it be for twenty minutes, before adding all of your vegetables and some tomato puree to thicken the sauce.

I love making mine with tonnes of vegetables, including some parsnips and sweet potatoes to give a little bit of a sweet kick.

PH/LC: use cauliflower rice rather than white rice, which is made by simply blitzing cauliflower and heating with some fat for 4-5 minutes.

Mixed bean salad, feta, and cherry tomatoes

I love making this meal because it is simple and indulgent, and is reminiscent of a mexican burrito bowl, so it will satisfy your cravings to boot! It is very easy to make, and cheap.

Use whatever meat/veg you like, as the main filling; I like to use chicken thigh fillet because they can be cooked and shredded to add lots of juicy flavour to the dish.

The key with this meal is that you should heat the beans (use a combination of drained tinned beans or alternatively you can buy mixed bean salads which are already combined) before eating them, as it breaks down some of anti-nutrients they contain.

Just cook your meat/veg separately then combine the beans with the main filling and any other veg in a large saucepan together with copious fats to get it nice and juicy. Also make sure you include lots of delicious herbs such as fresh coriander and parsley, and serve with squeeze of fresh lime, lots of cherry tomatoes and feta cheese.

PH/LC: swap out the beans for cauliflower rice, or use any combination of chunky cut vegetables to get that “mixed salad” feel.


I hope you enjoyed these recipes/ideas and that you have fun incorporating them as part of week 4 on the Cowlean kickstart plan. I’ll see you next week for part 5.

Here’s this week’s takeaways:

  1. Incorporate these three meals once each on three separate days of the week
  2. Utilise the PH/LC versions of these meals if you like
  3. Get your family involved again, show them the recipes, and see what they might enjoy!

Until next week,