Separating fact from fad – Healthista editor Olivia Hartland-Robbins asks social media sensation James Smith for his no-nonsense fitness facts
James Smith. Does he even need an introduction? He’s one of the biggest names in the fitness industry, with an Instagram following that’s growing faster than you can say ‘calorie deficit’.
If you’re one of the 640k people who does follow James AKA @JamesSmithPT on Instagram then you’ll know he’s a no-nonsense, no bulls**t kind of guy.
The 31-year-old online PT is well-known for his ‘outing’ of false influencers, fad diets and unhelpful headlines that feature in well-known tabloids, while using some pretty colourful language to ridicule their absurd fitness notions (in fact we’re slightly worried James may out us if he delves too deep into the Healthista archives…)
British-born but based in Bondi, Australia, James Smith became a #1 Sunday Times best selling author after releasing Not A Diet Book back in January this year. Last month James announced that his second book Not A Life Coach is to be released in November this year – available to pre-order now.
James’s no-nonsense approach to diet and fitness is a refreshing change in an industry full of misinformation and diet fads.
Before qualifying as a personal trainer in 2014, James worked in the corporate world and like many others with an interest in health fitness, he too was confused by all the misinformation that surrounded the fitness world.
Describing himself as ‘that keen guy in the office who had protein powder and useless supplements in his drawer and made sure everyone knew I was off to train legs’, colleagues would often ask James for fitness tips and accompany him to the gym during lunch breaks.
‘To be honest at that point I didn’t know exactly what I was doing and looking back now it’s pretty cringe-worthy, but I was on the right track. The bottom line though was that I enjoyed helping people train, it was fun to take someone through their paces,’ confesses James.
‘That’s why, when I left the corporate world (which I hated by the way), many people suggested I become a personal trainer. I remember thinking, even though personal training won’t pay as well, at least I would get higher job satisfaction and be able to wear my shorts to work’.
With so many influencers and Instagrammers out there claiming different ways to ‘lose weight’ and burn calories, Healthista wanted to hear from the man himself who claims losing weight isn’t as complicated as people have been led to believe.
Here are 11 no-nonsense fitness facts James Smith wants us all to know about…
#1 Don’t fall for the fads
Even I have fallen for every fad diet and fitness trend out there, that’s why I’ve got such a chip on my shoulder.
I tried a low-carb diet for a year thinking carbs would kill me. Then I was worried sweeteners could cause cancer so I never consumed any diet drinks.
Honestly I tried everything under the sun to lose weight
I gave the Insanity workout a go and jumped around my living room everyday for two months. I wore multiple layers to rugby training thinking that if I sweat more I would burn more calories, but I still wasn’t losing any weight, so then I decided to blame my ‘slow’ metabolism.
But what I didn’t realise, was that the simple reason I wasn’t dropping the pounds was probably because of the ‘Two for Tuesday’s’ Dominos Pizza I was nailing every week and the fact that I was living off sausage rolls from Tesco, basically I was consuming too many calories.
Honestly I tried everything under the sun to lose weight, until I suddenly thought hold on a minute, something isn’t adding up here with all this fitness industry bulls**t’. It’s all a load of money-making rubbish, don’t fall for the fads!
#2 Fat loss is only achieved through a calorie deficit
Calorie deficit are the two words most people associate me with, I’m often branded ‘the calorie deficit guy’.
That’s because if you are one of the many people out there trying to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit.
It’s the fundamental rule of fat loss.
The key to a successful and sustainable calorie deficit though, is to not cut your calories so drastically that you feel like you’re on a restrictive diet, because that’s no fun.
Instead, reduce your calories by 15 per cent, in order to lose weight gradually over time. My calorie counter makes this calculation for you.
Look at it this way, if I was a financial advisor I would say that when you get paid it would be sensible to save a little bit of money each month. Often though, people get excited and try to save a huge 50 per cent of their paycheck each month.
the key to a successful and sustainable calorie deficit is to not cut your calories so drastically that you feel like you’re on a restrictive diet
The thing is though, because you’ve put too much money away at once you’ll find yourself chipping away at those savings over the remaining weeks, £50 here and there until there aren’t any savings left.
It’s the same with calories, why cut your calories by an unsustainable 50 per cent, when you could cut them by 15 per cent and gradually lose weight without starving yourself and grabbing too many high calorie foods here and there.
Here’s another analogy for you, they say if you put a frog in hot water it will jump out, but if you put a frog in cold water and heat it slowly it won’t even notice and slowly boil to death. Of course I don’t want my clients to boil to death, but the point is I don’t want them to notice they’ve been thrown in hot water.
#3 Fitness doesn’t need to be expensive
Fitness and weight loss programmes can be expensive. Some ‘bikini body’ 12-week transformations and weight loss clubs can set you back more than a holiday to Ibiza.
I often use the example of poor Linda from Norwich who’s paying Weight Watchers or Slimming World too much money in the hopes to lose weight, only to be told off for not having her morning s**t because she hasn’t dropped another two pounds.
with the JSA, people can get unlimited access to resources and knowledge for just £8.99 a month
Instead of wasting your money on these weight loss plans, why don’t you join my academy JSA (James Smith Academy) where you can learn everything you need to know for a fraction of the cost and not be told off just because you haven’t dropped a few pounds of water weight.
The main idea for JSA was that I could give people more for less. Before JSA I was charging a premium price of £70 per week for online PT. I mean £70 a week is a lot of money, if someone was to keep me on for ten weeks that’s £700. But with the JSA, people can get unlimited access to resources and knowledge for just £8.99 a month.
It sounds lazy, but other than saving people money, one of the main reasons I wanted to set up the academy was because I was sick of repeating myself on the gym floor and during my online personal training. But now, it’s all in one easy place at an affordable price.
#4 You burn more calories out of the gym than in the gym
We all seem to live our lives as if the gym is where we burn all of our calories, when actually if we’re lucky we burn around 10 per cent of our daily calories at the gym.
People need to learn that the gym is not a place to run on a hamster wheel in order to earn your calories for dinner.
Instead people should see the gym as a place to get stronger and challenge their body. If you don’t make it to the gym, it isn’t the end of the world, you can still create a calorie deficit.
In fact, around 70 per cent of the calories we burn a day are burnt without moving and this is what we call BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate).
Your BMR can be measured using an online calculator and is determined by someones weight, height and age – the three main components that will quantify the amount of calories you burn at rest (that’s the calories you burn without even moving).
Then you need to perceive someones activity level (how active someone is on a daily basis), to understand how many calories somebody would burn on top of that 70 per cent. This is determined when looking at someones Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT) and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) aka gym training and non-gym training.
NEAT is any exercise you do that isn’t an active workout. That includes taking the stairs, not sitting on the tube and going for a walk at lunchtime rather than staying sat at your desk (hint hint). This type of exercise is what the majority of your day consists of and ultimately what burns the most calories.
Going to the gym to burn calories isn’t necessary, it’s just an added bonus
What is the point in taking the elevator at work to then pull yourself out of bed at 5am to walk on a treadmill for an hour? That isn’t a good deal. Instead stay in bed and focus on becoming more active during your day to day life.
Even if you work on the seventh floor and your colleagues think your’e a nutter walking up seven flights of stairs, you can tell them that ‘actually if I do this three times a day everyday, I would have burnt an extra 50 calories – that’s 250 calories a week, 1000 calories a month and 12,000 calories a year’. That equates to four pounds of body fat, which is exactly what people want to lose before they fly to Ibiza.
Going to the gym to burn calories isn’t necessary, it’s just an added bonus. If you add going to the gym to an already very active lifestyle, that’s the icing on the cake with a cherry on top. If you don’t want to go to the gym then don’t, some people like a plain Victoria sponge cake and that’s absolutely fine.
#5 Don’t feel bad if you can only get to the gym once or twice a week
Sometimes being too busy is a valid excuse. There is absolutely no point telling people they have to train four times a week when realistically they can only train twice a week.
That’s why I like to work backwards, the client tells me how many times they can go to the gym per week. The amount of days someone is able to train will then dictate how much exercise they are given on each day.
People often say to me ‘James I am a busy corporate and I can only train once or twice a week’ – they are always surprised when I say that it isn’t an issue.
there’s now exact amount of time to spend at the gym
When time at the gym is limited, I suggest that they stick to compound movements (exercises that use multiple muscles at once) such as your push, pull and squat exercises as these burn the most calories. I also hammer down the importance of increasing their NEAT exercise (mentioned above).
However, if someone was to say to me ‘I can go to the gym five times a week at lunchtimes’ then I would say that in addition to the compound exercises, you can have a little fun and spend extra time training your glutes or your calves (if you’re a dude), but it isn’t totally necessary.
Think about it this way, if everyone was given one cake to eat in a week (yum) and they can only eat the cake for two of the days then they get half a cake on each day. Whereas if they can eat the cake four times a week, they’re going to get a quarter of the cake each day. But the fact is they still get the whole cake.
Fundamentally, fitness and training has to work for you, there’s now exact amount of time to spend at the gym.
#6 Don’t blame your genetics, blame your lifestyle
You can’t blame your genetics. If anyone blames their genetics they’re full of s**t.
Calorie deficit is how we lose weight, there’s no weight loss ‘secret’, you just need to consume less calories than you burn. A lot of people though, have become confused over the past few years due to the ridiculous amount of conflicting information out there – no thanks to the influencers of Instagram.
If you ask my mum and dad who don’t have social media, they completely understand how fat loss works. Younger generations though are far more susceptible to believing all the bulls**t that’s out there such as, ‘your not losing weight because you aren’t intermittent fasting’, ‘you need to be in a state of ketosis to lose weight’, ‘your body needs a juice cleanse’ – or whatever other nonsense is going around these days.
People have too many ‘options’ of losing weight and their all a load of crap – just stop eating too much. Speaking of options, look at the amount of different food that’s readily available at the click of a button.
Ordering fish and chips for example has never been so easy, you can order it straight to your door. At least back in the day, if you were overweight you’d still have to walk to get your fish and chips and burn off a few calories on the way.
Now though you get, ‘who is going downstairs to meet the delivery guy then?’ I mean come on, all you have to do is walk to your front door and even that’s too much of an effort for some people.
What about Ubers? Even on a night out with my friends who are all pretty active like me, because we’ve got our jeans on and can’t be bothered to walk 300 metres down the road, we end up calling an Uber. Another option that wasn’t always there.
Lifestyle choices are everywhere and it’s one of the main reasons people are struggling to lose weight. Newsflash, it’s your lifestyle not your genetics.
#7 Ignore the body scanners and take progress photos
The most effective way to track your progress is visually.
Ignore Bod Pod, underwater submersion, body scanners and calipers (aka having your fat pinched). What’s wrong with taking a simple photograph?
Unless you’re an athlete who is incredibly lean and needs to make a very minimal change to their body composition, you don’t need to bother figuring out how much fat your body has on it, a photograph will suffice.
Poor Linda from Norwich getting her fat pinched with some calipers a PT got off Amazon for a fiver, is not going to benefit or motivate her in any way.
‘Well done Linda you’ve lost one per cent body fat, you may not have noticed you’ve lost that one per cent that but it’s another reason to sign up to our expensive programme for another 12 weeks’.
It’s usually photos that cause people to feel deflated, I would know because it’s happened to me too. People will see a photo of themselves and realise they need to sort their s**t out. Why should being told your body fat percentage motivate you any more than seeing a picture of yourself?
A photo won’t lie and if you really can’t see a difference get your mate to have a look, and if they can’t see a difference (and it’s been at least four weeks), well then maybe it isn’t working and you need to change your programme or trainer.
If you didn’t get any better at driving in four weeks you’d probably sack your driving instructor right?
#8 Treat your calories the same way you do your finances
When you get a bit skint you’ll announce to your mates that for the next two weeks you’re not going out because you need to balance your books. Then once you’ve done that you’re up for a night out again – tequila, pizza, kebabs – you know the drill.
The more you blow your budget on that night out, the more you have to rein it in again in the future. This is common sense.
So why can’t people apply this analogy to their calories?
If you eat way over your calorie allowance for the day, you’ll need to try and cut back on another day or over a few days.
By all means let yourself go occasionally, but as long as people aren’t letting themselves go all out every evening and consuming way more calories than they burn off then they wouldn’t have to rein it in as often aka they wouldn’t have to spend too many of their days on a reduced calorie deficit.
Realistically if people knew how to balance their calories 100 per cent of the time they would never have to ‘diet’ again, but people get cocky when they lose a bit of weight and end up falling back into old habits.
The repercussions for being skint can cause problems with your landlord and bank, and you get charged or penalised in the financial world to stop people making the same mistake again.
But in the fat loss world it just means getting bigger sized clothes or wearing darker colours, and often we only realise the repercussions when we have an obesity related health scare.
#9 Just be f*****g normal
We’ve all gone too far. Why can’t we all just be f*****g normal? Who wants to be perfect all of the time?
Let me give you another analogy. There’s a work life out there for all of us whereby if we got to the office at 6pm and didn’t leave till 10pm we could probably earn a hell of a lot more money.
BUT tell me honestly what kind of a life is that? If your spending all living hours in the office, quite frankly life simply isn’t worth living. You could be a very successful business man but if you don’t leave the office then what are you going to of with all the money?
A lot of people get caught up in seeing who can be the most successful in their line of work, but ultimately you don’t always need to be the best paid in the business, you just want to have the best lifestyle in the business.
I would rather have fun with my friends and moan about being hungover
This is the realistic way of thinking we need to incorporate when looking at our physique, and it goes something like this: ‘I should exercise and watch my calories as much as I can, but as long as I live a healthy, happy lifestyle who cares if I’m carrying a few extra pounds’.
See these Instagrammers who strive to have the best physique? Well most of them don’t have a life. They don’t go out with their mates and eat pizza or a tub of ice cream. Let’s face it, their lives are very similar to spending all day at the office and having no life.
If someone said to me ‘James you could live for an extra ten years and be in a better shape if you didn’t drink’, I would say yeah I know that but I would rather have fun with my friends and moan about being hungover because that’s the life I enjoy.
#10 Calorie tracking should only be a short term tool
Tracking every single calorie is not the be all and end all, it’s just a tool to help you realise how much you should be eating on a daily basis to maintain a healthy weight.
Let’s be honest who really wants to be counting their calories forever? Just do it for a few months – it can be a serious wake up call.
What people realise when they do track their calories is that they consume far more than they thought they did. Across the board, studies have shown that humans hugely under report or interpret the amount of calories they consume.
For many it probably seems impossible to ever live in a world that doesn’t revolve around dieting. But you can live a normal life that isn’t revolved around dieting and exercise, where a calorie deficit can be a short term way of bringing us back down to a healthy weight.
#11 Don’t trust Instagrammers (except me)
If someone joins my online programme and in three months they feel like they never need to buy into the fitness industry again – I would be thrilled.
I sometimes get emails that say, ‘James I know this is a weird email but I’m deleting my membership, not because I don’t like it but because I don’t need you anymore’.
I am the only Instagrammer out there who enjoys getting emails from people who are ending their membership with me, because that means they’ve learnt what they needed to.
Buy from me once and your done, your set, off you go and enjoy your normal, diet fad free life.
I am the only Instagrammer out there who enjoys getting emails from people who are ending their membership
What I have noticed about these so-called influencers in the fitness industry is that they all have certain qualities in common: narcissistic, self obsessed and wanting to look good with their kit off.
These blue tick Instagrammers who sell glute programmes and glute bands and make a tremendous amount of money have never even personal trained someone before – I’m like hold on a second guys why are people taking your word for it when you aren’t even qualified?
If you haven’t walked the walk then why are you talking the talk? Don’t trust them.