This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Ben Coomber. In his own words:
“I am a true geek at heart for everything nutrition, health and human performance. This all stems from my personal journey into the fitness industry. Being 16 stone and obese, to skinny fat looking, to finding the path to athleticism and optimal performance.
These days I spend most of my time touring the country delivering seminars, coaching a small handful of clients on and offline, teaching personal trainers advanced learning through the BTN Academy, putting out as much valuable information as possible through my podcast, blogs, youTube channel and Facebook and Twitter feeds, and keeping in awesome shape myself.
The more people I can help the better. That’s why I am so proactive with putting out as much information as possible and helping people learn and develop to be more awesome. I am also very proud of my business Body Type Nutrition. I now have 7 other coaches working with me to make as many people as awesome as possible, getting more and more people in incredible shape and reaching insane levels of health.
This is a massive journey for us all. I am still learning and developing, hopefully so are you. Feel free to follow me, get in touch, geek out on the social networks and check out the rest of the site…
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
Jonathan: Hey, everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus, Smarter Science of Slim Podcast. Very excited about today’s show. We are actually recording across the pond with a wonderful performance nutritionist, consultant, coach, presenter and writer, an individual who’s got a wonderful podcast called Ben Coomber Radio.
He spends his time educating educators, which is extremely important, as well as helping just everyone on the internet through his podcast, his YouTube channel, his Facebook page. He is all over. He is Ben Coomber. You could learn more about him at BenCoomber.com. Ben, welcome to the show.
Ben: Hello, from across the pond.
Jonathan: From across the pond. It’s like being on my… We have a weekly standard podcast for my delightful co-host who is a pastry chef who is trained and lived for much of her life in Britain; so it’s just I feel very at home with you, Ben.
Ben: Good. Good. Just for everyone listening, yes, we are standing on both coastlines of America and the UK with tin cans with string attached.
Ben: We are across the pond talking.
Jonathan: Well, Ben, can you just get started by telling us a bit about how you went from little Ben, little baby Ben, to where you are today?
Ben: Well, I would say when I was little baby Ben I wasn’t so little, so suppose that was what got me into the fitness industry. Ever since the age of 18, I was an actor. At that point in time when I was 18 all my sights were set on being on the big stage, being in theater, that kind of stuff. Then, I realized at the age of 18 being an obese individual, fat actors don’t get as much work. It’s as simple as that, and I kind of went on this journey to improve my health, to basically improve what I could do in my career. I’ve got a younger brother, so I left school, and went on this health kick.
Basically, I started to do what the government tells us to do. I started to run and do that stuff that we generally think is healthy, and I think I lost five pounds in five months, which is horrifically depressing statistic when it comes to weight loss. I was in the kitchen one day, I was teasing my brother, and he lashed out and he said, “Do you know what? You are not so perfect. Look at you.” I think I was teasing him about his weight. At that point I said, “Oh, my God! What do I do? I don’t have the information to improve my health.” He put a bet down and he said, “I bet you can’t lose two stone in two months.” so I panicked. I had to go elsewhere, and I joined a gym.
Luckily, fell into the hands of a personal trainer that really knew some really good stuff, and basically throughout this process to cut the long story short, I lost four stone in four months, which was about obviously a very rapid weight change in the beginning; and that just inspired me. I wanted to know more about nutrition, health. I started feeling really good. When I ran around, I wasn’t out of breath instantly, my asthma got better, loads of things; and that was a catalyst for me to say, “Do you know what? I don’t want to be an actor. I want to be a coach.”
Jonathan: Ben, very, very stupid question here. For the listeners across the pond, what’s a stone?
Ben: Fourteen pounds.
Jonathan: Okay, so four 14 pounds so you lost 52 pounds in four months.
Ben: Yeah, would have been that. I lost about five and half stones, should be close to about 70-75 five pounds.
Jonathan: Oh, wow. Well, yes, that is quite large. It is quite large. How did you do that? Were you doing that just eating less and exercising more?
Ben: That was definitely part of it, but for me there was a lot going around under the hood so at the time I had ADHD, eczema and intolerances, poor sleep, just a whole laundry list of stuff which is increasingly common. Obviously, I trained quite a bit. I think I was in the gym for about two hours, five days a week, which in hindsight may be a bit too much, but I was young. I could handle it. I could do it.
Largely, the biggest thing for me was identifying intolerances, so I worked out that I was gluten and wheat sensitive. I’m sensitive to cow’s dairy so I cut them out. I cut down a lot of my processed carbohydrate content which came as a default by cutting a lot my gluten and wheats out. Then just being really intelligent about the food quality and quantity; eating really good high quality food and all natural food. Do you know what? It just absolutely fell off me.
Jonathan: Ben, now you spend a lot of time, as you said, educating educators which is so important. When I hear your story it reminds me and you gave a bit of a disclaimer that just what you did when you were young of the Biggest Loser Show on television, where certainly if people spend hours and hours and hours and dedicate their entire life to something, they can achieve dramatic weight loss in a very short period of time. How does that match with how you educate educators to help their clients today and then in the long term?
Ben: Well, so my education stand point, I travel a lot and do seminars so I do kind of almost very short day intensives, which only go so far to scratch the surface, but I do a 12-month program online which is called the Body Type Nutrition Academy. Its core principles. We train for 12 months, which is long time; and its core principles is all about health. For me, I think a lot of the themes that we see running as trends throughout the health and fitness industries we are never really looking at health as an underlying core principle and philosophy. We base health and wellbeing and happiness purely off body composition.
We see pictures in magazines, and it’s skinny people with abs, and it’s all nice and pretty, but that doesn’t necessarily come… sorry, focusing on body composition as a byproduct, you don’t necessarily get health, but a lot of the time if you really focus on health you get body composition and performance gains as a byproduct of chasing health. A lot of my teaching is definitely looking at the gut, the immune system, sleep, intelligent exercise programming, all the fundamentals that actually you can incorporate into a healthy approach to health and fitness which I think can become a bit unhealthy when people really go in deep.
Jonathan: Ben, I certainly, certainly agree with that. Before the naysayers out there, I can imagine, because I’ve heard this for myself, I’m curious how you handle it, you could imagine someone saying, “Well that’s easy for Ben to say. It’s easy for Ben to say ‘Go health first and vanity will come second.’ but that’s because Ben already lost 70 pounds in five months. What about me who hasn’t lost 70 pounds in five months yet?”
Ben: Well, it’s just a journey, and I don’t think enough people are willing to invest time in the long game, great successes in life and this can be applied anywhere, life, weight loss, business, health, productivity, wellbeing, family, you have to play the long game, like none these great achievements are done overnight. I think that’s half of the problem again with advertising and fitness industry. We sold these dreams on a very short course like “You can achieve this in four weeks, and transform your body in twelve weeks.”
The chances are, don’t get me wrong you could make some superb changes, but you are only really touching the tip of the iceberg. I think people really do need to invest time and the realism that all of this is a journey. It’s a wonderful journey but it’s a journey and what you are doing right now is only part of that process.
Jonathan: The idea that it’s a journey, what have you seen as the difference between… because you represent and you’ve lived, correct me if I am wrong, both ends of the spectrum. You did describe at the beginning of our chat here how for a period of time you were spending ten plus hours a week at the gym, your primary focus in life was achieving this goal; and now it seems like you are in a position where you are able to focus your efforts on other people and educating them rather than on your own health.
You are on auto pilot doesn’t mean you don’t care about it, it just means you found a protocol which is less dominant, it’s less dominating of your life. What is the difference between what you were doing initially, what you are doing now, and is what you are doing now if you did that the whole time, do you think it would have worked?
Ben: I think the biggest difference is… you kind of sum up nicely, you kind of gone this autopilot, so when I teach in seminars this very much this element of when you’re driving hard towards a goal you got to be pretty strict with yourself to really reach that goal. Let’s say there’s an individual listening and you are, “Right, I am going to lose thirty pounds in the next four months,” for example. Now, you got to put a lot of things in place to reach that goal and really be strict with yourself. Now when you reach that goal of thirty pounds, what a lot of people might do is revert back to normal exactly what they did before they lost the thirty pounds, that’s obviously not what you want to do.
You want to find a happy medium so you want to back off slightly because you don’t really need to be strict. You might want to enjoy social occasions a bit more and have a bit more flexibility; so you just back off slightly so you still feel really good. You still sleep good. You still look good with your clothes off, but you are not quite as driven towards that hard goal. That’s probably where the diet culture comes in. We’ve got this culture of, we go on a diet to lose some weight and then we do whatever we like afterwards and really, you’ve got to adopt this kind of realism of 80-90 percent of the time, you got to be ticking all the boxes. It’s only that 10, possibly 20 percent you can get away with before things start to go little pear-shaped, to be honest.
Jonathan: When you say ticking the boxes that is a wonderful analogy because I often find it helpful especially as we get older and we have not only more experience under our belt but more responsibilities that we have to take care of. The idea of ticking boxes or process goals, meaning making the right decisions, I’ve found, I am curious what you think in your practice, that when an individual has a goal that is completely focused on results, meaning I am going to lose thirty pounds in three months. First of all, there is a question of whether or not that really should be a goal and whether or not you should be talking about waist circumference or things like that, but when you say, “I want to lose thirty pounds in three months,” that’s a very different from saying I am going to eat this, and I am going to exercise in this way.
One is a goal around a result which you may or may not be able to control, like I may have a goal of. “I want to be a professional football player.” Well, there’s a lot of things outside of my control that will determine whether or not I become a professional football player, whereas if my goal was. “I’m going to wake up every day and practice for two hours,” that is something I can control. What is your take on process goals, doing the right things, things that you can control completely versus results goals, things which may depend on external factors?
Ben: I think the important thing that we focus on when we sort of identify goal is the tangibles that are associated with that, so it’s very difficult to be driven and be focused and concentrate when you wake up and say, “I’m going to eat that because I want to lose a little bit of weight.” because it is all a little bit wishy-washy. Now, this all about goals and planning and this is something you can do also because I do a lot of business coaching within the fitness industry like a mentor, trainers to achieve better and learn different things. It’s the same principle with business and with health and with nutrition, and you’ve got a timeline. So, I would say to you, Jonathan, “Right, I am going to lose thirty pounds in thirty days.” Sorry. Yeah, we’ll just say that. Obviously, that’s unrealistic.
Now, all you need to do is look at that angle and then work backwards. So now what are the tangibles that I need to attach to this timeline to create and get me to my end goal while accounting for obvious external factors, so those would be for example, eating below my calorie, allowance for my basal metabolic rate, sleeping at 10:00 o’clock at night, exercising in the gym four days a week, drinking three liters of water a day, eating three pieces of fruit and ten pieces of vegetables a day… because once you see this goal, which is identified as a dream which has an emotional connection, we can then work backwards and actually bolt the tangibles on to that. I think it’s really important to have that goal driven or that kind of short-term end goal to kind of bolt everything into place.
Jonathan: I love the idea of having a goal that will elicit an emotional response, if I’m understanding correctly, where you say, “Will waking up and eating X probably is not going to elicit an emotional response; but waking up and saying “I am going to take a step towards some inspirational end state,” is inspirational. But, Ben, what is your take on… for example, I know often times people will focus on an end state being weighing a certain amount, but when we take a look level deeper. most people want to weigh that weight because they think it will make them feel a certain way. They think it will make other people treat them a certain way. So what if our goal was to feel a certain way or to wear a certain size or to exude a certain type of energy rather than a certain weight which may or may not be achievable?
Ben: Definitely, I 100 percent agree. Really good point. I think a lot of the time looking at health and wellbeing from a weight perspective only usually leads to some form of failure because we have an expectation, and a lot of the time, a lot of things can effect what happens on the scale. You could drink a large glass of water or have a really big meal and then people that weigh themselves every day think they’ve gained a pound, but they haven’t. That’s just general fluctuations of the body.
When I personally work with an individual or anyone in my company does, a lot of the time we say, “Hey, tell you what I want you to do. I want you to send me a picture of how you want to look.” We now start to create this physical ideal that we have an emotional attachment to, and then right next to that how you want to feel, like “I want to feel energized. I want to feel happy. I want to sleep well. I want to feel sexy in my clothes.” Then all of a sudden, we’ve got this visual representation of what people are working towards.
Now to back track at the beginning of your last comment, you kind of said people don’t wake up and just say, “I’m going to eat some lettuce today and just do it.” You kind of have to have this driver to make these kind of changes. You don’t wake up and go “I’m going to eat a salad because it’s going to help me lose some weight.” You go “Right, today is another day that I am going to work towards losing 30 pounds, and to do that for lunch today, I’m going to have a chicken salad,” or whatever it is because you are then driven by that end visualization of reaching that goal.
Jonathan: Having a concrete visual representation for your end goal, Ben, I think is a great recommendation. Folks again, both Ben and I have made very clear that right now we are intentionally talking a little bit superficially like it’s always about health first. Health is the end goal, but we are also realists in saying that many of us do want to look a certain way, and Ben your approach of picking a picture is a profound one because I think that also helps us to make peace with certain things.
For example, if I were to pick a picture of someone and they were five inches taller than me, we know that it’s not reasonable for us to hope to be five inches taller because that’s something that we can’t control; and it seems that there are other aspects of our physiques that are as immutable as height, and if we can get more crystalized on what we can and can’t control, it seems we might be more likely to be successful. What do you think?
Ben: Definitely. I think it comes down to the tangibles that you choose to assess your goals. Coming back to weight, it’s a very dangerous thing to use because you then put this expectation on the numbers. If I lose 30 pounds, I am going to be really happy. Now, I can guarantee you that I can put someone on a low fat, low carb diet and make them feel rubbish, but I might be out to get them to lose that 30 pounds.
Now, they get to that goal weight of being 30 pounds slimmer, but they don’t feel any better. They hate their diet. They hate the energy that they’ve got, and they just don’t feel good, whereas like you are saying, we start to attach all these things to the bigger picture to having great health, great sleep, looking like you are going to be on a cover of a magazine, if that’s what you desire. Then all these things start to become real rather than just basing things on numbers.
Jonathan: Also, when you pick that picture, I’m guessing most people don’t pick pictures of let’s say a marathon runner right when they finish the marathon or a… excuse if this is offensive, but like a coke addict who is just binged on coke and is really, really skinny but has dark circles under their eyes and look like a broken person. I would assume that most people pick pictures of people that look healthy, and that’s important. Right, Ben? Because a lot of these things that we could do to lose weight rapidly will not make us look like those healthy pictures. They make us look like unhealthy pictures we would never select.
Ben: Definitely. People will choose these healthy pictures so the picture that I chose was a current men’s health cover model. I chose that as my goal picture to work towards, and then I put in healthy steps to get me to what was that really healthy looking person but most people go, “I want to look like her or him” and then choose a really unhealthy path to get there like going on a really low fat cereal-based diet replacement kind of diet which isn’t healthy, so you can’t expect to look really healthy and vibrant at the end of it, which most people don’t.
Jonathan: Ben, what do you say to your clients when… if we were to pick a picture of say someone on the cover of Men’s Fitness or Women’s Fitness that would be like me saying, “I’m going to look on the cover of Sports Illustrated.” and say “I want to play football like that athlete.” Now, if I want to say that, I have to be very cognizant that that athlete dedicates their entire life and is probably being doing so over a decade to being that way, and I think having six-pack abs is more analogous to being an excellent athlete than most people think of it, like it’s a skill that requires constant, constant effort.
So what do you say to your clients if they… just like if I were to come to you when you were football coach and I say, if you are in the UK, “I want to play like Beckham, or in the US, I want to play like Peyton Manning.” and I’d say, “Okay, well quit your job, and here is what you need to do.” So how do you help people come to terms with the realism or not of certain goals?
Ben: I think by being a straight talker, I’m very much a coach that is very direct. I would say how it is. I’m sort of a bit known in some of the circles in my industry for talking about a lot of its topics that don’t get talked about in the fitness industry like hormones, sex, libido, these kind of things that we don’t talk about, and we should do because they are great barometer of people’s health. I’ll be honest, it’s not often I’ve had this scenario happen where someone come to me and said, “Ben, I want to play football like David Beckham” because most people know their boundaries and most people actually have very minor or very achievable goals.
Most people just want to feel better, sleep better, look better, have a flat stomach, have a tight bum, have great legs; and that’s very achievable for most people; but now and again, you do have to take people down a peg. To be honest, I don’t think it’s the goal that’s often the problem, it’s the timeline that people attach to it. So they’d be, “I want to be like David Beckham but I am going to do it next year.” and I’m like, “I’ll tell what, I think you might be able to do it, but I think it might take us three, four, five years and then we’ll break through to this point, and then we’ll work on that goal.” It’s usually the timeline that people expect things can be done within.
Jonathan: I love the distinction between that timeline and saying again, anything that is going to be monumental and world-class is going to take a long time and also the distinction between looking like a professional aka someone who dedicates their life to this and just not being sick or just not being overweight. Those are very, very different and the just not getting sick and just not being overweight is infinitely more practical, isn’t it?
Ben: Definitely, and let me kind of skip around the subject slightly and talk about a point that I think is important. A lot of the comparisons that we are currently talking about you and me here right now are based on other people, so we’ve got to be careful and it can be dangerous to have this kind of image or this picture or this comparison to someone that is quite of an elite status so there’s no point in me sitting here going, “I’m going to compare myself to David Beckham,” because I’m not David Beckham; and I don’t want to be David Beckham or I don’t want to be X, Y, Z celebrity. I want to be the best version of me that I can be, and that will make me really happy.
Jonathan: Ben, you hit the nail on the head there. We arrive at a paradox and I am curious your thoughts on this. Earlier on the show, we were talking about things like I’m wanting to lose weight. Let’s just get away from weight because we both agree that that’s not the right approach. Let’s just say, “me with seven percent less body fat and more energy” versus picking a picture of someone else. It seems like they’re both very useful – the me with seven percent body fat – that is great because it focuses on me.
It focuses on something I can control; and the picking a picture is… the reason I thought that was useful was simply because it seems we will only pick pictures that we know we could achieve. If I picked a picture of someone who was 6’ 10” like I would never do that because I know I am not 6’ 10”. Do you find both those exercises to be useful? One to be more useful than the other r do they conflict with one another? What are your thoughts?
Ben: I think they just got to be combined. Even when we track the changes in our health, and the direction that we go in, you never want to do that by a one source. This is another reason why weight is so dangerous like, you might not have lost weight on the scales one week, but your body composition might have actually changed. You might have gained a little bit of muscle and lost a little bit of fat with for someone only tracking weight is going to be heart breaking because that one variable says that they’ve almost failed for that week.
But they haven’t failed, they just haven’t tracked enough variables so I think it’s important for us to assess our goals and our progress by multiple means: visually, body composition, waist and hips circumference, girth measurements, bio impedance analysis, all these tools that we have, pick three or four of them so that you can always see, “Actually, I did not progress there, but that shows me that I have progressed brilliant.”
Jonathan: It’s almost a checks and balances system in a certain sense because if you just picked weight for example, you could be succeeding at your weight loss goal, but your energy level and mood goal could be doing horribly; so if you balance these visual, numeric, emotional… if you have these checks and balances in place, it seems like that’s much more productive. What do you think?
Ben: Definitely, definitely. I think it keeps us on the straight and narrow because we know where we are going and there’s always tangibles to assess yourself with. Again, coming back to weight, it’s probably be the last thing that I would encourage someone to track religiously, because I think it’s the one thing that gives us the least feedback that actually feeds our emotional attachment to where we are going.
Jonathan: Certainly, certainly. If all of us could wave a magical wand and make the scale show a number ten pounds lighter while we felt and looked worse, none of us would want that world, whereas if we could wave a wand which would make the number on the scale be ten pounds heavier, but we were happier with the way we looked and happier with the way we felt, we would be, so why not just focus then on how we look and how we feel and eliminate that red herring completely?
Ben: I think a lot of the time how we look and how feel isn’t enough, because we were almost conditioned that we should weigh X amount, or I weighed that amount when I was 21, so I need to weigh that amount again. I think it’s really just the conditioning of the diet, health and fitness mentality that we track our success and our goals based on these very simple tangibles of weight, when really it’s not conductive to the end picture. I think that is just conditioning of the mind over time. Some people change quickly and fall into that positive mind set, that healthy mind set, and a lot of people it takes a lot longer.
Jonathan: Well, if it’s at all helpful I sometimes think of weight… judging your value as a person based on your weight is a little bit like judging your value as person based on your bank account, like they are both numbers which may on some level have some correlation with something but I can promise you that if that’s what you hang your hat on, you are going to live a less full and less rich life than you could otherwise.
Ben: Definitely, 100 percent agree.
Jonathan: Well Ben, what’s next for you, Brother? You’re doing all kinds of stuff. You’re traveling all around. You’re all over the web. You’re helping people. What do you see yourself doing in the next couple of years?
Ben: Big things, to put it bluntly. I actually love working in the health and fitness industry. I thrive off of it. I also have a huge thirst for business these days, so me for the future is to keep growing body-type nutrition as an underlying coaching service. I’ve just put together a really good team, and I am going to keep growing that. We’re going to bring out more education courses in the future.
I am very keen to build up my YouTube TV channel to big things, and I’m going to hopefully lead that into filming a health-based documentary. We are also going to do a race across America next year, which we are going to film into a documentary as a first ever female solo rider. I’ve got two books in the pipeline, loads of stuff.
Jonathan: Certainly sounds like you’ll be busy and folks can learn more about you at your primary website BenCoomber.com. Folks, that’s B-E-N-C-O-O-M-B-E-R.com and they can hear from you on your iTunes podcast which is Ben Coomber Radio and that other site you mentioned is BodyTypeNutrition.co.uk. Did I miss anything?
Ben: No, that’s it. If you type Ben Coomber into any of the social networks or platforms, I will crop up as Ben Coomber.
Jonathan: I love it. Well Ben, thank you so much for joining us today and for your insights. I certainly think it will be helpful for all of us as we analyze our goals and analyze where we want to be at the end of the day and treat ourselves like the rich and valuable resources that we are, and we are so much more than numbers, aren’t we?
Ben: We are. We’re humans after all.
Jonathan: I love it, Ben. Well, folks his name is Ben Coomber. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for joining us this week and please remember this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter and, live better. Chat with you soon.
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